CANADIENS (10-11-0) at CAPITALS (13-4-4)
Montreal 4-6-0; Washington 6-2-2
This is the first of four meetings between the clubs this season, including two this month. They play again in Montreal on Nov. 28. The Capitals won three of the four games last season, including both games at Verizon Center.
The Capitals will debut their newest defensive prodigy (or, what they hope is their newest defensive prodigy) when 2008 first-round pick John Carlson
takes the ice Friday at Verizon Center. Carlson was called up Thursday and had his first practice with the team. He's in D.C. because of injuries to Milan Jurcina and Shaone Morrisonn and will be paired with Tom Poti
in his NHL debut.
They are coming off of a 3-2 win Tuesday. So what if it came in a shootout against the NHL's second-worst team (Carolina). The Canadiens needed a win and they got one. However, soon after it was announced that winger Brian Gionta
has a broken foot and is out indefinitely. Gionta is the Canadiens' third-leading scorer with eight goals and five assists.
His injury puts more pressure on everybody else in the struggling lineup, especially Scott Gomez
, who has a disappointing 11 points through 21 games. Travis Moen
will move to the top line with Gomez and Mike Cammalleri
. Moen has four goals and three assists this season. Georges Laraque and Ryan O'Byrne are expected to return to the lineup Friday and Carey Price
will start his fourth game in a row. He's 3-2 with a 1.95 GAA and .954 save percentage over his last five starts.
"(Price's) personality is kind of easy-going, and that's an attribute at times," Montreal coach Jacques Martin told the Montreal Gazette, "but you need intensity to be in position for a rebound and I really think he's improved in that area, not only in games but in practice."
The home crowd is sure to give a resounding welcome back to Alex Ovechkin
, who made his return with a power-play goal Tuesday night. It was his 15th of the season and first since Oct. 30. He missed six games with an upper body strain.
However, the Caps aren't healthy. Two of their top-six forwards -- Alexander Semin
(right wrist) and Mike Knuble
(fractured finger) -- are out. Semin is day-to-day while Knuble is out 3-4 weeks. Boyd Gordon (back), Quintin Laing (broken jaw), Jurcina (groin) and Morrisonn (head) are also out.
The debut of Carlson will certainly be intensely monitored. His stay could be short because Morrisonn could return as soon as Saturday's game in Toronto. Carlson had 10 points and a plus-14 rating in 17 games with the Hershey Bears last season after registering 76 points in 59 games with the OHL's London Knights.
"It's not gonna make (Carlson's) career or break his career," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told the Washington Post. "If he's horrible, it's gonna make no difference. We still think the world of him. If he's great, we still think he's a first-year guy who has played one game. So I hope he doesn't lose any sleep over this."
For the Canadiens, Tomas Plekanec
has five assists in the last three games, including two in Tuesday's win over Carolina and Price has stopped 83 of 87 shots in his last two starts, including 53 of 55 in a 2-0 loss to Nashville this past Saturday. For the Capitals, Tomas Fleischmann had an assist in New York to extend his point streak to 10 games while Semyon Varlamov has allowed four goals in his last three appearances.
The Capitals will be without Semin, Knuble, Gordon, Jurcina and Morrisonn. The Canadiens will be without Gionta, Hal Gill
(upper body), Matt D'Agostini (concussion) and Andrei Markov
Varlamov made his impressive NHL debut against Montreal last season (Dec. 13, 2008) and picked up a win by stopping 32 of 33 shots. Ovechkin has 10 goals and 10 assists in 16 career games against the Habs. The Capitals are averaging a League-best 3.67 goals per game. Montreal is tied for 27th with 2.29. Giving up the first goal has not had an effect on the Capitals, who are 4-0-1 when they give up the first goal. Montreal, though, is 8-1 when scoring first and just 2-10-1 when giving up the first goal.
"It's like he plays the game with someone else's body," Capitals captain Chris Clark said of Laing, who blocked a Michal Rozsival slap shot with his face Tuesday night and required overnight surgery in a New York hospital.