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Capitals, Canadiens each looking to end slide

by Arpon Basu

CAPITALS (22-21-8) at CANADIENS (27-19-5)


Last 10: Washington 2-6-2; Montreal 4-5-1

Season series: This is the final game between the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals this season, but the first at Bell Centre. The teams split the first two, with Montreal winning 3-2 on Nov. 22 and Washington winning 3-2 in a shootout Nov. 29.

Big story: Each team comes into this game looking to right a sinking ship, with the Capitals winless in seven (0-5-2) and the Canadiens with three straight losses in regulation to close a four-game road trip.

The common element has been a lack of offense. The Canadiens have scored two or fewer goals in five of their past seven games, and the Capitals have scored one or fewer in six of the seven games of their slide.

Each team is known for having a strong power play, but the Canadiens are 3-for-11 over their past four games after an 0-for-17 drought.

The Capitals should be the more desperate of the two, with their current slide leaving them seventh in the Metropolitan Division, four points out of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Washington was third when the winless streak began Jan. 12.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Captain Alex Ovechkin missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, but the offensive woes began long before that. But coach Adam Oates appears to be focusing more on his team's play in its own end.

"I wouldn't say it's our starts, it's just mistakes," Oates told reporters after Washington's 2-1 loss on the road to the New Jersey Devils on Friday. "The guys look ready to play, they're playing hard, it's just mistakes. We can't make mistakes.

"When you're not scoring, you can't make mistakes."

The Capitals power play is 1-for-24 over its past eight games. The success rate on the season has dropped from 26.1 percent to 23.2 percent.

With goalie Michal Neuvirth having started in New Jersey, Braden Holtby will likely start in Montreal.

Canadiens: It could be argued Montreal's biggest problem lies in its defensive zone.

A 4-1 loss Friday on the road to the Detroit Red Wings was the fifth straight game Montreal allowed at least four goals, and though the Canadiens have not been allowing an overabundance of shots, there have been a high number of quality scoring chances against Carey Price.

Coach Michel Therrien did say he was encouraged with what he saw from his team in Detroit in spite of the score.

"If we continue to compete like that, I know things will turn around," Therrien told reporters. "We made a few little mistakes and weren't able to convert on our chances, but I thought our team was aggressive. Even though it was a physical game, we didn't back down. I liked the way we played."

Price started in Detroit, so backup Peter Budaj may get the call against the Capitals.

Who's hot: Holtby has allowed five goals on 66 shots in his past three appearances, though two of them came in relief, for a save percentage of .924. … Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher has two goals in his past three games.

Injury report: Ovechkin (lower body) took part in the optional skate Saturday morning and said afterwards he felt good. Oates said a final decision will be made on Ovechkin’s status just prior to game time, but that if there are no setbacks he will play. Forward Mikhail Grabovski (lower body) left the game Friday in the second period. Oates said Saturday he too is a game-time decision, but he was less optimistic Grabovski would play.

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