Photo: Francois Lacasse/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens both return from their bye week to face each other for the second time this season in the hockey capital of the world. The Canadiens crushed the Capitals by a score of 5-2 in the first meeting of the season between the two teams at Capital One Arena on November 15. Action from Bell Centre can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Capitals wrap up a stretch where they play consecutive road games and three of four away from D.C. Despite trailing 4-1 in their final game before the bye week at the New York Islanders, they scored five goals in the third period to stun the Island and win 6-4. Their 18-6-1 road record this season is the best in the NHL, but the Capitals have dropped four of their last six road contests (2-4-0) and have allowed at least three goals in every game during that stretch, though they have won two of their last three on the road.
Defenseman John Carlson, who represented the team at the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis this past weekend, ranks 10th in the NHL and first among defensemen with 60 points this season. His 47 assists are two behind Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid for the league lead. Before the bye-week, the 30-year-old recorded six assists during a four-game assist streak. His +17 rating is second on the Capitals behind defenseman Radko Gudas’ +22, which is tied with New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin for the sixth-highest in the league. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who will serve a one-game suspension for skipping NHL All-Star Weekend on Monday, is tied with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews for second in the league with 34 goals. He has recorded eight goals in his past three games. Forward Jakub Vrana is currently riding an eight-game point streak, where he’s recorded seven goals and nine points, and a two-game goal-scoring streak, where he has tallied a pair.
The Capitals entered their bye-week with three straight victories and six wins in their last eight games (6-2-0). In the last two of those wins, they scored a total of 11 goals and allowed just six goals over the winning streak after yielding 34 over their previous nine games. They return from their bye-week a point up on the Boston Bruins for first in the Eastern Conference and NHL with two games in hand and four points up on the Pittsburgh Penguins for first in the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand.
The Capitals’ average of 3.55 goals-per-game is the fifth-highest in the NHL while their average of 2.90 goals-against per game is tied with the Colorado Avalanche and Philadelphia Flyers for 10th. Their 84.2% penalty-killing efficiency is currently second in the league behind only the San Jose Sharks (87.7%). The Capitals’ average of 32 shots-per-game is 11th while their average of 29.8 shots-against per game is the fifth-fewest.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 18-9-4 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.09 goals-against average in 33 games this season and is 1-5-0 with an .825 save percentage and a 3.88 goals-against average since December 23, will start for the Capitals in Montreal on Monday night. In 18 career games against the Canadiens, the 30-year-old is 13-2-2 with a .943 save percentage (best against any opponent), a 1.67 goals-against average (lowest against any opponent), and two shutouts.
The Canadiens close out a short two-game homestand and are coming off a win against the Vegas Golden Knights in a shootout by a score of 5-4. Monday night’s game will mark Montreal’s eighth home game in their last 11 overall and they continue a stretch where they play 14 of 21 at Belle Centre, where they are 10-12-4 this season and have lost six of their last eight there (2-5-1).
Since starting the season 11-5-3, the Canadiens have gone 11-16-4 to fall 10 points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and third place in the Atlantic Division. Though, they won four of their last five games (4-1-0) leading up to the bye week, which followed an eight-game losing streak where they went 0-7-1. The Canadiens have allowed just 10 goals during the current stretch and scored nine goals in their last two leading up to the bye-week.
Forward Tomas Tatar leads the Canadiens in goals (17), assists (26), and points (43) in 50 games this season. He posted a goal and eight points in his last eight games before the Canadiens’ bye-week and had a four-point outing (including one goal) against the Capitals earlier this season. Forwards Brendan Gallagher, who has missed the Canadiens’ last 10 games with a concussion; Paul Byron, who has missed the last 31 with a knee injury; and Jonathan Drouin, who has missed the past 31 after undergoing wrist surgery; will all miss Monday’s contest. Byron and Drouin last played in the Capitals and Canadiens’ first meeting of the season. Forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a one-year, two-way contract with the team on January 3, has four points, eight points, and a +3 rating in eight games with the Canadiens after the Los Angeles Kings terminated his three-year contract on December 16.
The Canadiens’ 20.6% power-play efficiency entering the NHL All-Star Break is tied with the Arizona Coyotes for 11th in the league but their 78.9% penalty-killing rate is 21st. Their average of 34.9 shots-per-game is the highest in the NHL this season. The Canadiens have averaged 3.12 goals-against per game, which is tied with the Kings and Winnipeg Jets for the tenth-most in the league, and 3.04 goals-per-game, the league average.
Goaltender Carey Price, who is 20-16-4 with a .908 save percentage, a 2.84 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 40 games this season, is expected to start against the Capitals last season. He has won his last four starts, posting a .956 save percentage and allowing just six goals over that stretch. The 32-year-old is 8-14-5 with an .892 save percentage, a 3.29 goals-against average, and one shutout in 27 career games against the Capitals. Price made 26 saves in the Canadiens’ 5-2 win at Capital One Arena earlier this season.
- The Capitals have a combined record of 58-29-8 following their bye week since it was implemented in the 2016-17 season, equivalent to a 110-point pace over an 82-game season
- The Capitals have an NHL-best 71 points (33-11-5) through 49 games, marking the third-best record in franchise history at the mark (2015-16: 76 points; 2016-17: 72 points)
- Carlson is two assists shy of passing Calle Johansson (361) for the most assists by a defenseman in franchise history and tied for first among NHL defensemen in time on ice per shift (0:59)
- This season, 21 of Vrana’s 22 goals have come at even strength, which is tied with Bruins forward David Pastrnak, Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel for the third-most even-strength goals in the NHL
- Vrana ranks first among players with at least 10 games this season in the NHL in goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (1.85) and sixth in points per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (2.92)
- Vrana is the only player in the NHL to have at least 44 even-strength goals over the last two seasons and only two power-play goals
- The Capitals are 14-14-2 since 2005-06 with Ovechkin out of the lineup
- The Capitals lead the NHL with 91 goals on the road this season
- The Capitals are one of four teams that have two players ranked in the top-14 in goals (Ovechkin, Vrana, 22 goals – tied for 14th)
By Harrison Brown