OK, now it’s the Caps’ turn. After facing four opponents at Verizon Center that had come off games the day before visiting the Caps, Washington gets the tables turned. One night after facing the New York Islanders at Verizon Center, the Caps take to the road Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.
And not only will the Canadiens be catching the Caps on the back half of a back-to-back, they will be doing it having played their last two games at home and not having had a game since Sunday (a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers). The Habs will be well-rested.
Of course, perhaps the Canadiens needed that respite. This has not been the best of years for the Canadiens. After finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference last season and taking the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to overtime in a seventh game in the opening round of the playoffs last season, fans might have been hopeful for improvement this season. Strike that; it’s Montreal – improvement is expected.
Well, that did not work out as hoped, did it? Montreal did not stumble out of the gate to start the 2011-2012 season; they did a full face-plant – a 1-5-2 start. They did win four in a row to get themselves even at .500 (5-5-1), but then spent the next six weeks treading water. Again, this is Montreal, and treading water is not preferable to carving up the ice, so after posting a 13-12-7 record, Jacques Martin was relieved of his duties on December 17th.
Enter Randy Cunneyworth, a veteran of more than 850 regular season games with six different NHL teams, who was promoted from the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Montreal affiliate in the AHL. One might have wondered if Cunneyworth – who had a 302-241-48-40 record in eight seasons as an AHL head coach with Rochester and Hamilton – had the experience and the talent to manage behind an NHL bench. But the big story upon his elevation to the Canadiens’ top spot was the fact that he did not speak French (the first non-French speaking head coach for the Canadiens in more than 40 years). It was the stuff of government involvement (the Quebec Culture Minister calling for the situation to be rectified), commerce (a call for a boycott of Molson products, the Molson family being club owners), and club management itself (stating that the permanent replacement for Martin must be bilingual).
Hockey was almost a distraction for this franchise. Not that it has been an altogether pleasant distraction, either. Since Martin was relieved, the Canadiens are 4-8-1. And the latest “scandal” is whether P.K. Subban spit at New York Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto this past Sunday after the Rangers took a 2-1 lead in what would be a 4-1 win. This is not the team of Scotty Bowman. Scott Towels, maybe.
One might think all this will make for an ornery bunch of Canadiens, but there is another twist to this that might have the Capitals in an ornery mood. It started with two entirely unrelated events involving different team and different cities. The Montreal angle on this starts with Michael Cammalleri and comments he was reported to have said concerning the Canadiens after a practice on January 11th, "I can't accept that we will display a losing attitude as we're doing this year. We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it's no wonder why we lose." But this was reported by a French media source, and there is some dispute about whether Cammalleri meant “losers” or suggested a “losing mentality” (there’s that language thing again).
Nevertheless, he was shipped to Calgary in a trade (with rights to goaltender Karri Ramo) for Rene Bourque. But not even something so simple as a trade could escape intrigue. Cammalleri was in the midst of a game last Thursday against the Boston Bruins (one that Montreal lost, 2-1). Through two period he had skated a total of 9:02, but was held out in the third period of the game, the trade apparently having been consummated.
Which brings us to the return on the trade and why the Caps might be in as ornery a mood as their hosts. When the Calgary Flames visited Washington on January 3rd, the Caps had a 3-1 lead over the Flames, due in no small part to Nicklas Backstrom getting assists on the first and second Caps goals. But with just under ten minutes left in the game, Rene Bourque congratulated Backstrom on his achievement by elbowing him in the head. The elbow ended Backstrom’s night (in fact, ended Backstrom’s participation for five more games, and counting) and earned Bourque a five-game suspension. On Wednesday, Bourque – who seemed to warm up for this contest by delivering an iffy hit on New York Ranger Carl Hagelin in Bourque’s first game with the Habs – will renew acquaintances with the Caps. And remember, Bourque is also the player who jumped Tyler Sloan in a game in Calgary in October 2008 after Sloan delivered a big hit on Flames’ forward Daymond Langkow (it was Sloan’s first game), earning him 19 minutes in penalties and putting the Caps on a nine-minute power play (the Caps did not score, and subsequently lost the game, 2-1).
This isn’t a game, it’s a mini-series.
Meanwhile, the numbers for the two teams shake out like this:
(click pic for larger image)
1. As if it was not bad enough with “'Équipe Feuilleton Mélo” (pardon us if our French is rusty), Scott Gomez was on injured reserve following a lower body injury sustained in late November. But he returned to the lineup on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. He did not score a goal. He did not score a goal in his next game, on Sunday against the New York Rangers. In fact, going into Monday’s action, 611 skaters dressing for NHL games this season had more goals than Scott Gomez, including such household names as Aaron Volpatti, Lance Bouma, and Cody Almond. You see, Scott Gomez has yet to score a goal this season. OK, it is only 15 games, but hey, for a cap hit of $7,357,143 one might expect him to be out-scoring Aaron Volpatti, Lance Bouma, and Cody Almond (combined cap hit: $1,949,166).
2. Montreal seems to have to play with a lead…a big lead. They are 7-8-8 in one-goal games, good for 28th best winning percentage in the league. Only Edmonton and Carolina are worse, not the company you want to keep.
3. Montreal seems to have to play with a lead…a big lead, Part 2. The Canadiens are ranked 27th in the league in games decided by two goals (3-7). Only Anaheim, Columbus, and Tampa Bay are worse. Another bad neighborhood.
4. Only one team in the league has been shorthanded more often in the first period than Montreal’s 64 occurrences (Philadelphia: 69). Only seven teams have more shorthanded situations in the second period. Seems it takes this group a while to figure out the rules on a game-to-game basis.
5. Montreal is dead last in the league in winning percentage when scoring first (.429). They are one of only two teams (Columbus is the other one) with winning records below .500 in such situations.
1. As noted in the post-game from last night, in 16 games in which the Caps have allowed five or more power plays they have a record of 6-9-1 and have killed 65 of 86 shorthanded situations (75.6 percent). In games in which they have allowed fewer than five power play opportunities they have a record of 18-9-1 and have killed off 61 of 69 shorthanded situations (88.4 percent).
2. On the other side, the Caps are 4-2-1 in games in which they received five or more power plays and are 6-for-39 in those games (15.4 percent). They are 20-16-1 in games in which they receive fewer than five power plays and are 22-for-106 (20.8 percent) in those games.
3. The Caps have allowed only one 5-on-3 power play goal this season. Only Detroit and Vancouver have yet to allow one.
4. This whole getting out-shot thing is having an effect. It has happened in 27 of 44 games, and the Caps have a record of 12-13-2 when the opponent records more shots on goal (tied for 19th in winning percentage). They are 12-5-0 when outshooting the opponent (second in winning percentage). The Caps need to find a way to either reverse the getting out-shot trend or find a way to be more successful in enduring it.
5. The Caps need to keep games close, it seems. They are 18-8-2 in one- or two-goal games, 6-10 when the decision is by three or more goals.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: Erik Cole
Erik Cole is Montreal’s leading goal scorer, but after getting four in five games from December 27th through January 7th, has not recorded one in any of his last four games (tying his longest streak without a goal this season since a seven-game streak to start the campaign). He has had success against the Caps, though, with 20 goals in 44 career games (20-13-33). He has 13 power play points among those 44 career points against the Caps (6-7-13), and he has seven power play goals this season overall to lead the Canadiens.
Washington: Michal Neuvirth
It might be time to give Tomas Vokoun a breather, especially in the Caps going on the road right after a home game. Michal Neuvirth has not appeared in a game sine January 9th – a 20 minute mop-up stint in a 5-2 loss at Los Angeles – and has not started a game since December 26th, a game in which he allowed three goals on six shots in 11:15 before being pulled in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. His last “60 minute” game was going the distance in a 3-2 Gimmick loss to New Jersey on December 23rd. He does not have much of a record against Montreal (1-1-0, 2.91, .887), but at some point he needs to scrape some of the rust off.
In the end, the Caps have to show that they can win games away from the friendly confines of Verizon Center. They are 3-5-1 in road games since Dale Hunter took over, and with six of their next seven on the road, they have a chance to turn that record around. If they don’t, then this 3-1-0 home stand will have been wasted. That means that tonight, distractions like what to do about seeing Rene Brouque again are just that – distractions. There are more important things to work on.
Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2