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At the Rink: Capitals at Canadiens

by Sean Farrell

MONTREAL -- The Washington Capitals are looking forward to taking a measure of themselves against the NHL-leading Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Thursday (7:30 p.m.; RDS, CITYM, CSN-DC).

Washington is 17-5-1 with a five-game winning streak and is in third place in the Eastern Conference with 35 points -- six behind Montreal (19-4-3; 41 points), which has played three more games.

Capitals right wing Justin Williams said facing the Canadiens under these circumstances "is what you look forward to as an NHL player."

"Well both teams are doing well," Williams said after the morning skate. "Both teams have Stanley Cup aspirations and we're both around the top of the conference, so yeah, it's one you might look at a couple of months ago and not really think it's a big deal, but now it is. Every little edge you can get in a game, whether it be in regular season, preseason, anything, to make the team think that you're too hard to beat is important, so it's an important game for us."

Washington has not played since a 4-2 win at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. The Capitals took part in team-building activities at Joint Base Andrews, formerly Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland on Tuesday.

"We've had a few [breaks] throughout the year," said goalie Braden Holtby, who was named NHL Second Star of the Month for November. "It's been a strange schedule that way so I think we're a little more comfortable this time. Usually long breaks like that I feel a little strange. You kind of want to get back on the ice, so we had a good set up this time. We had a practice, a day of team building and then another practice, and we're ready to get back at it."

Holtby, who has a seven-game winning streak -- his longest in the League -- went 9-2-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and one shutout in November.

"I think what you're seeing is a very athletic goaltender who's been pretty successful in the National Hockey League combining a great sense of athleticism and now probably putting the pieces together in terms of connecting the dots of maybe using that athletic ability to close down holes and make himself big at times, rather than maybe just the pure athletic save, where you're making that glove save and sometimes you have to take it off the shoulder, and reducing the odds of misplaying a puck," Washington coach Barry Trotz said.

"And I think you're seeing a lot more calmer goaltender, a goaltender that relies on his instincts and his knowledge of the game as well as the athletic ability, very similar to Carey Price. I mean, those guys see things in slow motion. I think Braden has slowed the game down and that's what makes him pretty effective."

With Price sidelined for at least six weeks because of a lower-body injury, Canadiens rookie Mike Condon will make his fourth start in a row.

Condon is 9-2-3 with a 2.11 GAA and .918 save percentage following a 2-1 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

"We can definitely play a skill game and we can play a grinding game too," center Alex Galchenyuk said after an optional skate at Montreal's suburban practice facility. "Whether it's a close score or not, we believe in our group. We're a confident team and we found ways to win those games. And that's what you've got to keep doing, keep grinding it out and no matter what the score is we know that we can come back, or if we're leading we know we can hold onto the lead. We believe in ourselves and we've got to find a way to win."

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Andre Burakovsky

Brooks Laich- Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratched: Stanislav Galiev


Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Dale Weise

Tomas Fleischmann - Tomas Plekanec - Paul Byron

Lars Eller - Alex Galchenyuk - Sven Andrighetto

Devante Smith-Pelly - Brian Flynn - Christian Thomas

Andrei Markov - P.K. Subban

Nathan Beaulieu - Jeff Petry

Alexei Emelin - Tom Gilbert

Mike Condon

Zach Fucale

Injured: Brendan Gallagher (hand), Torrey Mitchell (lower body), Carey Price (lower body), Alexander Semin (lower body)

Scratched: Greg Pateryn, Daniel Carr

Status report: Orpik practiced though he is not ready to return and will miss his 10th straight game. Trotz said he is making steady progress. "It's one of those injuries that there's a pain tolerance to it and we just want a healthy Brooks Orpik because he's a big part of what we do," Trotz said. "And the blessing of the whole thing is that we're getting to look at some of the younger guys play here and we've still been able to win, so that's a positive thing sign on our part." … Montreal forward Michael Bournival cleared waivers Thursday and will report to St. John's of the American Hockey League.

Who's hot: Ovechkin has four goals and two assists in his past six games. … Kuznetsov has eight points in five games (two goals, six assists). … Chimera has a goal and an assist in each of his past two games. … Johansson has scored the game-winning goal in consecutive games. … Carlson has five assists during a three-game streak. … Pacioretty, who has a five-game point streak, has 14 points in his past 12 games (six goals, eight assists).

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