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Ovechkin, Caps set to host Habs

by Corey Masisak /
CANADIENS (27-18-5) at CAPITALS (27-15-9)


Last 10 -- Montreal 6-2-2; Washington 4-3-3.

Season series -- Washington won the lone meeting of the season 3-0. Semyon Varlamov had a 25-save shutout at Verizon Center. That win snapped a three-game losing streak against Montreal -- Games 5, 6 and 7 of the first round of the playoffs in April.

Big story -- The Capitals are playing the Canadiens and searching for answers
on the power play. Sound familiar? Last postseason an impotent power play (1-for-33) was the one of the biggest reasons for Washington's upset loss to eighth-seeded Montreal. The struggles have extended to this season.

Washington is 19th in the NHL at 17.1 percent and Alex Ovechkin has scored an extra-man goal in exactly one of the team's 51 games to this point (he had two Oct. 30 against Calgary).

Team Scope:

Canadiens -- Montreal had a solid month of January after a sub-par December, but the Canadiens are still only three points ahead of ninth-place Carolina in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens are short three of the team's top players,
including left wing Mike Cammallieri. Montreal has a deeper group of forwards this season, which has softened the blow. The Canadiens have scored 12 goals in the three games he has missed, but 7 of those came against slumping Ottawa and the team has lost the past two contests since. Young players such as Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty could have an opportunity to lobby for increased roles in the future while Cammallieri is out.

Capitals -- Washington started the season 14-4-1 and was atop the NHL standings -- where it finished the regular season in 2010-11 -- but the Capitals lost 19 of 32 leading up the All-Star break. The defense is much improved, especially since coach Bruce Boudreau tweaked the team's previously aggressive system. The Capitals have yielded one goal in each of the past four games, but lost 2-1 in a shootout to the New York Rangers and 1-0 to Atlanta. It was the seventh time Washington has been shut out in the past 32 games. That is three more times than the previous two seasons combined.  

Who's hot -- Varlamov has allowed 17 goals in his past 10 appearances, including two or less in eight of them. Ovechkin has 4 goals in the past 5 games. That's not hot by his typical standards, but considering he had 5 goals in the previous 28 contests, it is a start. Mathieu Darche had 13 goals in his first 130 career NHL games, but has 9 in 44 this season for Montreal -- including three markers (and five assists) in the previous 10 contests for the Canadiens.

Injury report -- In addition to Cammallieri (shoulder), Montreal will be missing defensemen Andrei Markov and Josh Georges -- both are done for the season with knee injuries. Right wings Alexander Semin (groin) and Eric Fehr (shoulder), goaltender Michal Neuvirth (lower body) and defenseman Tom Poti (lower body) all practiced Monday. Boudreau said Fehr and Poti are out but Semin could play is he feels well enough Tuesday morning.

Stat pack -- Montreal goalie Carey Price has made nine career appearances against Washington (including two during the 2010 playoffs) and the Canadiens have lost seven of them. Price is 2-3-3 with 30 goals allowed. Varlamov is 6-3 and has yielded 18 goals in his nine career outings against Montreal.

Puck drop -– Semin inked a one-year, $6.7 million contract extension last week so he won’t be an unrestricted free agent for the firs time this summer. General manager George McPhee pointed to Semin’s looming return as one reason for optimism for the team’s struggling offense. The Capitals are scoring slightly more than one goal per game more when Semin does play than in the games when he doesn’t.

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