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Caps host Canadiens in search of first win

by Arpon Basu

CANADIENS (1-1-0) at CAPITALS (0-2-0)


Season series: This is the first of three meetings between the clubs, and the only one scheduled for Verizon Center as the Capitals will visit Montreal twice this season. The Capitals swept all four games in the season series between the teams last season, with the Canadiens collecting one of a possible eight points for a shootout loss. The Capitals outscored the Habs in the four games by a count of 12-3.

Big story: New Capitals coach Adam Oates is still looking for his first victory behind the bench, and while a two-game losing streak to begin the season is normally nothing to get overly alarmed about, a three-game slide in this shortened 48-game season could increase the temperature in Washington.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: Montreal is coming off a 4-1 win at home against the Florida Panthers, a game that featured a number of firsts for the club, including rookie phenom Alex Galchenyuk scoring his first NHL goal, with fellow rookie Brendan Gallagher drawing an assist for his first NHL point in his first NHL game.

But most important to coach Michel Therrien, who also earned his first victory in his second stint in Montreal, was the way his team played compared with a listless effort in the season-opening 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

"We want to take pride in being a team that's tough to play against, and that doesn't only mean by hitting people, but also how we execute the system we're trying to put in place," Therrien said after practice Wednesday. "I think overall last night, whether it was physically, the way we played at 5-on-5 and special teams, we were tough to play against yesterday. It was a step in the right direction."

Therrien said he will not be making any lineup changes to the group that beat Florida, which means young center Lars Eller will be a healthy scratch for a second straight game. Therrien said during training camp that Eller had reached a stage in his career where his game had to go to another level, and that he would be given an opportunity to show it. But Therrien did not like Eller's lack of emotion in the opener, so he scratched him.

Capitals: Much like Therrien in Montreal, Oates is attempting to put in place a new system that is quite different from the stifling defensive style of his predecessor in Washington, Dale Hunter.

The results thus far have not been encouraging, with two losses in which the Capitals allowed a combined 10 goals and scored just four, but Oates refuses to put all the blame on the difficulty of learning a new system in a shortened training camp.

"What I showed the guys [from] the first period was zero system, had zero to do with it," Oates said Wednesday after the team's optional skate and video session. "It was our execution. If a guy's wide open and we miss him with a pass, that's not a system. So some of it, we have to accept responsibility that it's us."

Goaltender Braden Holtby, a hero last spring when he helped the Capitals eliminate the heavily favored Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, has gotten off to a rocky start with a 5.04 goals against average and an .863 save percentage. Backup Michal Neuvirth will get his first start of the season against the Canadiens, but Oates suggested it was simply because both goalies need some work and not because of Holtby's play this season.

Who's hot: Offseason acquisition Mike Ribeiro has points in each of the Capitals' first two games and leads the team with three points, all assists. Alex Ovechkin, adjusting to life on the right wing, has one assist but leads the team with eight shots on goal through two games. … Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov scored twice in a span of 15:07 on Tuesday night after going 26 months since his last goal. Goaltender Carey Price has allowed just three goals on 54 shots this season for a save percentage of .944.

Injury report: The Capitals are without Brooks Laich (groin) and Jack Hillen (upper body). Hillen skated Wednesday, but Laich didn't, suggesting he is still far from a return…The Canadiens are missing center Petteri Nokelainen with a back injury, the timetable for his return is unknown, and restricted free agent defenseman P.K. Subban remains unsigned.

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