The Montreal Canadiens were hoping a lengthy homestand could help them gain ground in the Eastern Conference. Injuries and an illness, however, have them suddenly stumbling.
The Canadiens hope to overcome yet another injury when they wrap up their franchise-record seven-game homestand on Saturday night against the Washington Capitals.
After opening the homestand with three straight wins, Montreal (16-7-5) has gone 1-1-1 since. The second-place Canadiens, who trail Northeast Division-leading Boston by seven points, have scored 20 goals on the homestand but only six over the last three games.
In Thursday's 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay, Montreal captain Saku Koivu left in the second period with a lower-body injury and didn't return.
"Saku is going to need an MRI," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau told the team's official Web site on Friday.
Koivu's injury came after Mathieu Dandenault and Christopher Higgins were lost to injury in Tuesday's 4-1 win over Calgary. Dandenault is sidelined indefinitely after having surgery on Wednesday on his broken left arm, while Higgins is out due to an unspecified upper-body injury.
Injuries haven't been the only thing hindering Montreal, as starting goaltender Carey Price has missed the last two games with a cold. Price, who is tied with Buffalo's Ryan Miller for fifth in the league with 13 victories, could miss this game.
Backup Jaroslav Halak has started in Price's place, and made 19 saves on Thursday after stopping 32 shots against the Flames. Halak turned aside 27 shots in Montreal's 3-0 loss to Washington on Nov. 28 - the last time the Canadiens played on the road.
The Southeast Division-leading Capitals (17-10-3) have also been dealing with their share of injuries, but are finally starting to get healthy.
After Alexander Semin and Tom Poti returned in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Bruins, Sergei Fedorov and Mike Green came back in Friday's 5-1 win over Ottawa.
Fedorov had missed 16 of 17 games because of a sprained ankle, and had three assists on Friday, while Green, who had been sidelined 11 games by a shoulder problem, finished with a goal and two assists.
Goalie Brent Johnson made 32 saves, and has posted a 1.25 goals-against average in winning his last four starts after recording a 4.36 GAA while losing his previous three. He has not had any success against the Canadiens, though, posting a 3.67 GAA in losing all three career starts against them.
Johnson's backup was one of the biggest stories of Friday's game.
After Jose Theodore suffered a hip flexor injury during the morning skate, the Capitals signed Brett Leonhardt, a Division III goalie in college and the team's Web site producer, to an amateur tryout contract.
"Sometimes when you see the adversity of the goaltending situation like it was evolving today, the players dig deeper for a teammate, for Johnnie," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said, "and I thought we played a pretty good game."
Washington improved to an East-best 12-1-1 at home with Friday's victory, but has had little luck on the road lately. The Capitals are 1-5-0 away from home since Nov. 20 - getting outscored 23-10 in those contests.
Alex Ovechkin got his 16th and 17th goals of the season on Friday, but has been part of the reason for Washington's road woes, as he has just one assist in his last three away from the Verizon Center. He had a goal in the win over the Canadiens two weeks ago.