While the league has altered - for the better - the manner in which the break is scheduled for the league's 31 member teams, the teams and the players themselves have also had several years of these breaks now, so they should have a better idea of what needs to be done to hit the ground running once the break ends.
"I think we've done a pretty good job in the last little bit of focusing in right away," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "You've got to realize there is going to be some rust at the start. You just have to simplify and use your teammates to have success; you're not going to be able to do it on your own. Coming off a break like that, you've got to work as a team.
"For us, it's always been leading up to [the break] that we've struggled. I think after the break, we're just excited to play hockey and get ready for the real thing."
Video: Locker Room | January 26
The numbers bear out what Holtby says. The midseason break was first introduced in 2014-15, and the Caps are 17-11-7 in their last seven games leading up to those first five midseason breaks; they're 22-13-7 when their last seven games (5-2-0) before this season's break are included. Coming out of the break, the Caps have gone 22-9-4 in their first seven games, again starting with 2014-15.
"Honestly, the break goes by so fast," says Caps center Nic Dowd. "But it's really good to have that first practice [Sunday]. And we come out for the pregame skate [Monday], and I felt like guys are really sharp today, and I personally felt pretty good. I think it's good to step away from the ice for the six or seven days we get because it just takes such a toll on your body skating every day. And most guys get one to two to three workouts in during this week, so honestly I like it.
"I think to hit the ground running, you just play a smart, simple game for the first couple of periods until you get your legs back under you, and your brain kind of gets going at that full speed again."
Coming Back Again - With Caps captain Alex Ovechkin forced to sit out Monday night's game in Montreal as punishment - in the form of a one-game league suspension - for opting out of the NHL's All-Star Game festivities this past weekend, Travis Boyd will draw into the Washington lineup for the first time in nearly four weeks tonight. Boyd last saw action on Dec. 31 against the Islanders when he filled in for Dowd, who missed that afternoon's game for the birth of his son.
Boyd is used to coming into the lineup on a moment's notice; he did so on Dec. 18 against Carolina and ended up skating a single-game career high of 16:58. This time is a little different; he knew he would be playing this game more than a week ago.
"Unlike all the other times," says Boyd, "I didn't do anything the week before I got to play so I think that makes it a little different. Obviously, I knew that once Ovi played in the [Jan. 18] Islander game before the break that this was a game that I'd be coming into and playing, so I knew it all last week.
Video: Rinkside Update | Travis Boyd
"But at the same time, I wasn't on the ice all last week either, but neither was anyone else in this room or anyone on Montreal tonight. I think it will be a level playing field but at the same time, first game action for me since New Year's Eve. Nonetheless, just try and focus on getting off to a good start and getting back into that game mode as fast as I can."
While Boyd is filling in for Ovechkin's absence in the lineup, Richard Panik will actually move up from the right side of the third line to Ovechkin's spot on the left side of the first line. That gives the lefty shooting Panik an opportunity to play on his natural side with some skilled players while Boyd occupies Panik's normal spot.
"Richard has the ability to make some high-end plays," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "You see he sets up [Carl] Hagelin for the goal on the Island there [on Jan. 18], the other night against the Islanders, back before the berk. He has the ability to slot up, and that's how our organization felt about him coming into this year. This is a good opportunity for him to play with Nick [Backstrom] and Tom [Wilson].
"For me, he has played with high-end players in the past and he's got to be able to simplify things, especially on this team after a break. It's never easy. Now, just figure out a way to contribute. Obviously, he is not going to be Alex Ovechkin; he is going to be Richard Panik and we're looking to continue to see growth from him as we move forward with the rest of the year here."
Boyd will skate with Hagelin and Lars Eller tonight. Boyd has played with Hagelin and Panik, he has played with Eller and Panik, so he expects the chemistry part of the equation should fall into place.
"Obviously, I've played with Lars, and even when Nick [Backstrom] was out, I played in the middle of Hags and Richard, too," says Boyd. "So I think the chemistry is there. I'm comfortable with who I'm playing with, and I'm comfortable going into the lineup tonight. I'm going to come here tonight and try and get off to a good start, have a couple good first shifts and touch the puck and get a little bit of the confidence.
"Hopefully it just takes over and it's just another day playing hockey out here. And go there and have some fun, too; my first game in a month and I'm excited to play, and excited to hopefully help the team get a big win here, and to start off the second half."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | January 27
In The Nets - Holtby is in the midst of a protracted slump. For the first time in his 453-game NHL career, he has permitted three or more goals over a span of seven straight starts. During that stretch, Holtby is 1-5-0 (with a no decision), with a 4.53 GAA and an .830 save pct.
Given Holtby's success here in Montreal and against the Canadiens, he gets the net tonight in Montreal as the Caps continue to try to get him back on the beam down the stretch run of the regular season.
Over the course of his career, Holtby has had these occasional slumps, most notably in February and March of 2018, just months before the Caps won the Stanley Cup. He has had a number of different goalie coaches over his years in the District, and typically it's a matter of diagnosing what's wrong, and addressing the issue(s) in practice and games.
"It's different every time," says Holtby. "Obviously, every guy's personalities are different, and they handle it in different ways. I'm not saying one way is better than the other or anything that, it more comes down to me just going out and doing the work. But that support is good; it's another set of eyes that can help. I've obviously learned a lot of really good lessons from all those guys through the years, and I'm trying to put them to good use."
Lifetime against the Canadiens, Holtby is 13-2-2 with two shutouts, a 1.68 GAA and a .943 save pct. In 11 career starts at Bell Centre, Holtby is 9-1-1 with two shutouts. He has yielded two or fewer goals against in nine of his 11 lifetime starts here.
No goaltender in the league carries a higher salary cap tag than 31-year-old Habs veteran Carey Price, whose eight-year contract carries an annual cap hit of $10.5 million. Price has had his ups and downs this season, and he is underperforming his cap hit, but he has accounted for 20 of Montreal's 22 wins to date this season. Montreal has deployed a trio of backup goalies - Keith Kinkaid, Cayden Primeau and Charlie Lindgren - that has combined to win only two of its 10 starts (2-5-3) while posting an aggregate 3.66 GAA and an .891 save pct.
January has been Price's best month of the season so far. He is 4-3-1 this month with a shutout, a 2.11 GAA and a .935 save pct. Lifetime against the Capitals, Price is 8-14-5 with a shutout, a 3.29 GAA and an .892 save pct. in 27 appearances.
Price stopped 26 of 28 shots to beat the Caps in Washington on Nov. 15 of this season. He is 3-9-4 lifetime against the Capitals at Bell Centre.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Canadiens to look on Monday night in Montreal when they meet up for the middle match of their three games this season:
14-Panik, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 72-Boyd
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
8-Ovechkin (league suspension)
90-Tatar, 24-Danault, 17-Kovalchuk
13-Domi, 14-Suzuki, 40-Armia
25-Poehling, 15-Kotkaniemi, 62-Lehkonen
21-Cousins, 44-Thompson, 22-Weise
11-Gallagher (upper body)
41-Byron (lower body)