Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens for the final meeting between the two teams this season on Thursday night. The teams have split the first two games against one another with each winning on the other’s turf. The Canadiens snapped the Capitals’ season-long 13-game point-streak (11-0-2) with a 5-2 win in Washington on November 15 before the Capitals returned the favor with a 4-2 win in Montreal on January 27. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or NBCSN nationally beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Canadiens continue a three-game Eastern Conference road trip and a stretch where they play five of six away from Bell Centre after dropping the trip opener by a score of 4-3 to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night. The loss marked their third straight road loss, where they have allowed four goals in every game of that stretch. The Canadiens are 14-12-3 on the road this season, which is better than their 13-15-5 home record.
The 4-3 loss to the Red Wings marked the Canadiens’ fifth straight, where they have gone 0-4-1. That followed a three-game winning streak and a stretch where they won five of six and nine of 12 (9-3-0) that had helped them climb back into the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Entering NHL action on Wednesday night, the Canadiens were sitting at .500 and 10 points back of the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets, who are all tied for the first wild-card spot.
Forward Tomas Tatar leads the Canadiens in goals (21), assists (33), and points (54) in 62 games this season. Since coming out of the NHL All-Star Break with a six-game point streak, where he has posted three goals and eight points, the 29-year-old has traded games with and without a point. Forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canadiens on January 3 after having his three-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings terminated, has recorded six goals, 12 points, and a +2 rating since coming to Montreal. There has been some speculation that he could be moved ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 PM ET on Monday. Defenseman Shea Weber, who missed six games with an ankle injury, returned against the Red Wings on Tuesday. Montreal dealt defenseman Marco Scandella to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2021 fourth leading up to the trade deadline.
The Canadiens’ average of 34.1 shots-per-game is the second-most in the NHL this season behind only the Vegas Golden Knights (34.5), while their average of 31.2 shots-against per game is at the league average. Their average of 2.95 goals-per-game and their 19.6% power-play efficiency are both 18th while their average of 3.08 goals-against per game is 17th. The Canadiens’ 79.1% penalty-killing efficiency ranks 19th.
Goaltender Carey Price, who is 24-22-5 with a .910 save percentage, a 2.76 goals-against average, and three shutouts this season, will likely start against the Capitals on Thursday. In 28 career games against the Capitals, the 32-year-old is 8-15-5 with an .893 save percentage, a 3.28 goals-against average, and one shutout. He has allowed five goals on 67 shots (.925 save percentage) in two games against the Capitals this season, including a 36-save outing the last time that the two teams met a few weeks ago.
The Capitals return home from a three-game Western Conference road swing, where they went 1-2-0 after closing it with a 3-2 loss to the Golden Knights on Monday. They are 16-9-4 on home-ice so far this season but have dropped four of their past five (1-4-0) at Capital One Arena. They were outscored 12-5 in their last two games of their season-long four-game homestand and allowed 23 goals in their first five home games after the All-Star Break before heading West.
The Capitals have lost two straight in regulation and six of their last nine (3-6-0) since a four-game winning streak in late January. They have allowed at least three goals in both games of their losing streak and in eight of their last 10, allowing 40 over that span. Their 3.48 goals-against average since December 23 is the third-most in the NHL. Due to their 11-11-0 record since December 9, the Capitals have fallen one point back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division and the Penguins have a game in hand.
With his team-leading 55th assist against the Golden Knights, defenseman John Carlson hit the 70-point mark, which leads the Capitals, to match his career-high in that category from last season. Since getting held off of the scoresheet in the Capitals’ first two games after the All-Star Break, the 30-year-old has two goals and 10 points in his last eight games but a -7 rating in his last five. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who has gone five straight games without a point and still sits two goals away from 700 in his career, ranks third in the NHL with 40 goals this season behind Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (43) and Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak (42). Before his cold streak, the 34-year-old posted 14 goals and 15 points in his previous seven games. Defenseman Brendan Dillon, who was acquired from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 conditional third-round pick on Tuesday, could make his Capitals debut though head coach Todd Reirden was unsure of that. The 29-year-old has recorded one goal, 14 points, an even rating, and an average of 2:02 of penalty-killing ice time per game in 59 games with the Sharks this season.
The Capitals’ average of 3.47 goals-per-game ranks fourth in the NHL this season and they have scored at least three goals in nine of their past 12 games. Their average of 3.02 goals-against is at the league average. Their 20.7% power-play efficiency is 14th, but their 83.9% penalty-killing rate is fourth. The Capitals’ average of 32.1 shots-per-game is 11th while their average of 29.8 shots-against per game is the fifth-fewest. Their 48.4% faceoff-winning percentage is tied with the Penguins for the fourth-worst in the NHL this season.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 21-13-4 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average this season, will likely make a sixth-straight appearance against the Canadiens on Thursday. Excluding an appearance against the Flyers where he allowed seven goals on 25 shots, the 30-year-old has allowed only 10 goals on 135 shots (.926 save percentage) during that stretch. In 19 career games against the Canadiens, Holtby is 14-2-2 with a .943 save percentage, a 1.69 goals-against average, and two shutouts. He made 31 saves in the Capitals’ 4-2 win in Montreal a few weeks ago, his lone start against them this season.
- Holtby enters Thursday one shutout shy of passing Olie Kolzig (35) for the most shutouts in Capitals’ history
- Carlson enters Thursday two points shy of passing Calle Johansson (474) for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history
- Ovechkin has 20 career goals against Price, the fourth-most goals he has against any single goaltender
- Dillon’s 51.7 shot attempt percentage (899 shot attempts for, 840 against) ranked second among San Jose defensemen at five-on-five this season, was on the ice for 40 goals at five-on-five, the third-most on the Sharks, and his 178 hits this season are the ninth-most in the NHL
- With the acquisition of defenseman Dillon, the Capitals now have five players who rank in the top 21 in hits in the NHL (F Tom Wilson: 214 hits, ranked fourth; Dillon: 178 hits, ranked ninth; F Garnet Hathaway: 160 hits, ranked 16th; Ovechkin: 155 hits, ranked 20th; D Radko Gudas: 154 hits, tied for 21st); Dillon and Gudas each rank second and sixth, respectively, among defensemen
- With two goals on Monday against the Golden Knights, forward T.J. Oshie has recorded a goal in four of his last five games (five goals) and has recorded 11 points (six goals) in his last 11 games, ranking second on the Capitals in points (Carlson: 12)
- Oshie’s 22% shooting percentage is the highest of any NHL player who has scored at least 24 goals this season
- Hathaway’s 3.03 drawn minor penalties per 60 minutes of play is the highest rate in the NHL among players with at least 30 games played
By Harrison Brown