CAPITALS (40-20-10) at CANADIENS (38-24-7)
TV: TSN (HD), RDS (HD), CSN-DC+ (HD)
Washington 9-1-0; Montreal 7-3-0
Washington and Montreal have split their first two meetings of the season, with the Canadiens taking their most recent game in a shootout 3-2 on Feb. 1 at the Verizon Center.
The Capitals have spent most of the season battling inconsistency that might have been the result of a lingering hangover from last year's disappointing first-round playoff exit after taking the Presidents' Trophy in the regular season -- but now Washington is the hottest team in the League with eight straight wins. That hot streak will be tested as the Caps open a six-game road trip Tuesday, and the first stop will be in Montreal, home of the very same team that ousted Washington from the postseason a year ago.
Washington knocked off the defending champs Sunday afternoon in front of a national television audience in a dramatic 4-3 overtime win, but the final score doesn't do justice to the Capitals' performance. They dominated long stretches of the third period with lengthy possessions in the offensive zone that could have led viewers to wonder if Chicago was on a penalty kill despite having five men on the ice. In the end, the victory was possibly the best the Caps have looked all season and it has extended their winning streak to eight games, the longest current stretch in the NHL.
Washington's impressive run has boosted it back into first in the Southeast, where the Caps were in danger of losing out on a division title to Tampa Bay after ruling the roost for three seasons. The Capitals are now just one point behind Philadelphia for the conference's top seed, but they face a significant challenge in keeping up the pace as they open a season-long six-game road trip. That won't be much of a concern if they continue to get staunch play in net from Braden Holtby
, who earned first star honors for the NHL last week, going 4-0-0 with a 1.05 goals-against average, a .965 save percentage and two shutouts.
Montreal may not be as hot as Washington, but the Canadiens aren't far behind. The Habs have won six of their last seven games with a particularly potent offense that is averaging 3.29 goals per game in that stretch -- largely thanks to Mike Cammalleri
, who has 3 points in three games, and Tomas Plekanec
, who has 4 points in his last four. With those wins under its belt, Montreal is now sixth in the East with 83 points, a total that puts the Habs seven points clear of the unsolved ruckus at the bottom of the conference's top eight, and likely has them headed toward a fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
In their last outing, the Canadiens blanked the Penguins 3-0 Saturday afternoon, the second shutout this month for Carey Price
, who is likely the biggest reason for Montreal's recent success. With the exception of a loss in St. Louis last Thursday, Price has been scary good in March, winning five of his last six starts while compiling a 1.17 GAA and a .965 save percentage.
Who's Hot: Travis Moen
is generally more known for his brawn than his scoring ability, but lately the rugged winger has been playing as big a role on offense as any other Canadien, tallying 5 points in the last five games. ... As Alex Ovechkin
goes, so go the Caps. While both Washington and its captain had been maddeningly inconsistent for most of the season, both have shined of late. While the Caps have won eight straight, Ovechkin, not coincidentally, has 17 points in his last 13 games.
Montreal's Brent Sopel is considered questionable for Tuesday with a left hand injury. … Washington is still waiting for the return of Backstrom (broken finger) and Mike Green
(head), but goalie Michal Neuvirth
is expected to be available Tuesday night. However, given Holtby's impressive play, he is unlikely to get the start.
As the old saying goes, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but as Washington's recent winning streak has shown, it's best to be both. While the Caps have looked good in winning eight straight games, four of those wins have come in overtime or a shootout.
Montreal appears to be in little danger of falling out of the playoff hunt, and with just two points separating it from Northeast-leading Boston, there is plenty of mobility possible for the Habs. Washington may be in the reverse position as the leaders of the Southeast, but interestingly, the Canadiens can play a large role in both divisional races and the conference seedings as a result. Following Tuesday night's game against the Caps, the Canadiens will be back in action Thursday night, and Tampa Bay will be staring at them from the other end of the ice.