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Canadiens host Capitals in battle of division leaders

by Arpon Basu

CAPITALS (24-18-2) at CANADIENS (26-11-5)


Last 10: Washington 8-1-1; Montreal 5-5-0

Season series: This is the third and final meeting. The teams split the first two games, with the Washington Capitals beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 at Bell Centre in their most recent meeting 11 days ago.

Big story: Both teams lead their respective divisions, but both those leads are tenuous. The Canadiens are two points up on the Boston Bruins in the Northeast, but with two fewer games remaining. The Capitals are two points up on the Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast, with each team having four games remaining.

Team Scope:

Capitals: The Capitals are coming off a 3-1 road loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. It snapped an eight-game winning streak that allowed the team to go from fighting for their playoff lives to Southeast Division leader in the span of three weeks.

The team practiced at Bell Centre on Friday, trying to address some of the execution errors that plagued them in the loss in Ottawa and get back on track to face a Canadiens team coming off a bounce-back win against the Tampa Bay Lightning that snapped a three-game losing streak.

Still, even in defeat, the Capitals could see some positives in being in a one-goal game until the very end against a playoff-bound club in spite of the deficiencies in their game.

"The fact that we were right in the game even though we were playing our worst game is a good sign," winger Eric Fehr told the Washington Post.

The team is still missing key forwards Joel Ward and Brooks Laich, who are both out indefinitely.

Canadiens: The Canadiens had a day off from practice Friday a day after ending a three-game losing streak in which they were outscored 18-8, easily the team's worst stretch of the season.

Though Thursday night's 3-2 last-minute win against Tampa does not signify the Canadiens are completely out of the woods yet - they've still lost four of their past six games - the players were glad for the victory.

"It's definitely a desperate situation with the playoffs coming up, it's something we need to get figured out right away," goaltender Carey Price said after the game. "We have some more things we need to work out, I think tonight was a step in the right direction."

This will be Montreal's fifth game since last Saturday - hence the day off Friday - and will be the team's final home game of the regular season. Defenseman Raphael Diaz should return to the lineup after missing 25 games with a concussion, and Colby Armstrong could return after missing nine games with a knee injury.

Who's hot: For the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet for just the third time in his past 17 games against Ottawa. He has 18 goals and eight assists in those 17 games. Center Mike Ribeiro scored Washington's lone goal in Ottawa to extend his points streak to four games, with a goal and five assists in that span. … For the Canadiens, rookie Alex Galchenyuk has six goals in his past eight games, including a goal in each of his past three. Oddly enough, Galchenyuk hasn't hit the 10-minute mark in any of his last three games despite being the Canadiens' hottest forward. Brian Gionta's game-winner with 46.4 seconds remaining Thursday was his third goal in two games.

Injury report: The Capitals are missing Ward (knee contusion), Laich (groin) and defenseman Tom Poti (back)…The Canadiens are still missing defensemen Alexei Emelin (knee).

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