A week from tomorrow, the Capitals will commence their bye week. Between now and then, they'll play five games in eight nights, beginning with Saturday's matinee match in Montreal against the Canadiens. The game is the rubber match of the three-game season's series between the two teams; each team won in the other's building in the first two meetings.
Coming out of the NHL's All-Star break earlier this week, the Capitals played a set of back-to-back games, splitting them. After a couple days between games, the Caps head into another set of back-to-backs this weekend; after today's game they'll head back home to host the Los Angeles Kings in Washington's traditional Super Bowl Sunday matinee at Verizon Center.
Video: Barry Trotz talks before #CapsHabs
"For us, we're just going to take it one game at a time here," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We're playing a good team in Montreal here. They're very good at the Bell Centre, it's an afternoon game and you've got to be ready to go. And we're going to play a team [Sunday] afternoon that's been hot in L.A. They're starting to roll.
"It's going to be a good test for us, going into this week before the bye week. We are trying to build something, so we talked about when we came back [from the All-Star break] let's make sure that we're changing our practices a little bit so that we're actually going try to get a little more work done this week, so that it carries over after the bye week as well."
Minute Management - Throughout this season of the condensed and compressed schedule brought about by the inclusion of the World Cup of Hockey and a bye week for all 30 NHL clubs, Trotz and his staff have worked diligently to manage the minutes of key Washington players in order to ward off fatigue and to keep them fresher for the stretch run and the playoffs.
"I think when we spread it out," says Trotz, "I think what you're seeing is really more consistent play from your heavy use guys. What happens when you have to use your top guys so much, they're going to hit a wall at some point, and they'll go four or five games where they just don't have the juice to play at the level that you need, and therefore your team suffers a little bit.
"I think with us, we've been able to manage that a little bit with our roster. I think our top guys have been more consistent. They haven't seemed to fall off in their play in games. And health-wise, I think there is a benefit to that too. You get mentally fatigued and you get physically fatigued, too. Usually that's when bad things happen on the ice and then you're more at risk for injury."
Healthier Habs - The Caps and Habs met in Washington on Dec. 17 and in Montreal on Jan. 9, but the Canadiens are a healthier bunch today than they've been for either of the first two meetings between the two clubs this season.
Montreal's entire third line of David Desharnais between Alex Galchenyuk and Andrew Shaw is new to the Caps this season.
"I think what you're seeing is they still play the same style," says Trotz of the Canadiens. "They've got a lot of team speed and they're a very high work ethic and high commitment team. Their forecheck and their checking game is emphasized with their team speed. They get on you quick. It's not the initial play, but it's the secondary play. They get you in small spaces and they turn that into offense.
"What you're seeing now is the guys who still have those components, but a guy like Galchenyuk has a little more of that finish than another player that maybe was playing on that line. The last time we played them, they were missing that whole line of Galchenyuk and Shaw and Desharnais. They just bumped up another line, another level. They're a good hockey team."
The Canadiens average just under 30 shots on goal per game this season, and they're in the middle of the NHL pack in that department. But the Habs have been limited to 25 or fewer shots on net in seven of their last dozen games.
The Canadiens come into Saturday's game on the heels of a 3-1 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday. The Habs managed a season-low 16 shots on net in that game; their previous low of 17 also came against the Flyers back in November. Despite being outshot 38-17, the Canadiens won that Nov. 5 game against the Flyers by a 5-4 count here at Bell Centre.
In The Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net for Washington in Saturday's game against the Habs. Holtby is 10-0-0 in his last dozen starts with a 1.93 GAA and a .932 save pct. He earned his 25th win of the season in his last start, a 5-3 triumph over the Bruins on Wednesday.
Lifetime against the Canadiens, Holtby is 9-1-2 with two shutouts, a 1.59 GAA and a .943 save pct.
Carey Price gets the crease for the Canadiens on Saturday. Lifetime against Washington, he is 6-10-4 with a shutout, a 3.02 GAA and a .900 save pct.
All Lined Up - Neither team conducted a morning skate ahead of Saturday's matinee match in Montreal, so we won't be certain how the lineups will look until pregame warm-ups. With that in mind, here's our best guess at how the Caps and the Habs are likely to look when they face off for the final time this season.
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
67-Pacioretty, 24-Danault, 47-Radulov
41-Byron, 14-Plekanec, 62-Lehkonen
27-Galchenyuk, 51-Desharnais, 65-Shaw
25-De la Rose, 17-Mitchell, 32-Flynn