The Washington Capitals bring their three-game road trip to an end with a visit to "La belle province" and the Montreal Canadiens. For those of you not acquainted with the French language, “La belle Province” is loosely translated as “place we can get up for games because people actually show up and care about hockey almost as much as they care that the people who coach hockey here can pronounce ‘La belle province’ and not sound like Rocky Balboa ordering French fries.”
The Canadiens are not “The Canadiens” these days. Montreal has struggled more often than not this season to string together wins. Since they had a four-game winning streak snapped on November 4th, they have not had more than two consecutive wins since. Since replacing head coach Jacques Martin with Randy Cunneyworth on December 17th, Montreal is 6-11-2, and have dropped from being only two points out of a playoff spot all the way to 14th in the Eastern Conference, ten points behind the eighth-place New Jersey Devils and ahead of the 15th place Carolina Hurricanes only by virtue of a tie-breaker (fewer games played).
They have, however, shown some signs of at least being competitive recently. Since the Caps shut them out on January 18th, Montreal is 2-2-1 (so, it’s not a big improvement), including a 7-2 thrashing of the Detroit Red Wings. Even if the Canadiens find themselves nine points behind the Caps, they are playing to a level on which they should not be taken lightly. Here is how the teams compare, numbers-wise:
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2. One might not be too surprised that Erik Cole leads the Canadiens in power play goals (seven). One might be very surprised that Yannick Weber is second in power play goals (four). They happen to be the only four goals scored by Weber this season.
3. If the Caps have a lead after two, don’t count on Montreal coming back. Only five teams have a worse winning percentage than Montreal’s .050 (1-16-3). And winning after taking a lead after 20 minutes is no sure thing, either. Only three teams have a worse winning percentage than Montreal when leading after the first period. They do seem to wilt in games. They are a plus-5 in goals scored/goals allowed in the first period of games this season and plus-5 in the second period. But they are a minus-12 in the third period.
4. Defenseman P.K. Subban is tied for the league lead in minor penalties taken.
5. Montreal is the only team in the Eastern Conference that has not yet reached the 10 win mark at home. Columbus is the only team in the league with fewer wins on home ice.
2. The Caps are minus-7 (goals scored to goals allowed) in the first period of games this season and minus-10 in the second period. But they are plus-11 in the third period.
3. Only five teams have allowed more goals on the road this season than Washington (83).
4. The Caps are 3-for-30 on the power play over their last 11 games (10.0 percent). On the other side, they are 24-for-32 on the penalty kill (75.0 percent). Clearly, special teams must improve.
5. Even though he hasn’t played a hockey game in a month, Nicklas Backstrom is still tied for fifth overall in power play assists.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: Max Pacioretty
Erik Cole might lead the team in goals, and David Desharnais might lead the club in assists. But Max Pacioretty is a player to watch on Bell Centre ice. He leads the team in goals, assists, and points at home. He is a tale of two players, home (12-16-28, plus-9) and road (6-3-9, minus-10). Regardless of location, he is 6-3-9, plus-4 in his last eight games, but he has yet to record a goal against Washington in his career (eight games played).
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
Well, yeah. After sitting out three games in which the Caps went 1-1-1, the Caps are sitting in ninth place in the East and are three points behind Florida in the Southeast Division. They are in desperate need of a kick start, and Ovechkin is in need of kick starting his game. He has 13 goals in 24 games against the Canadiens. He was 3-3-6, plus-4 in the six games leading up to his suspension. The trick will be to see if he can improve on that to start his second half and push the Caps closer to Florida.
1. It’s Saturday, not Sunday. The Caps are a team that has enough trouble focusing on the task at hand, and the distraction in this one is the fact that the Caps will return home to face Boston on Sunday. Think too much about that, and they’ll be facing Boston having lost three in a row. Play this game first.
2. Low Ball Price. Montreal goalie Carey Price has an odd quirk in his performance. In games he has faced more than 30 shots he has a save percentage of .925. When facing 30 or fewer, that save percentage drops to .901. Given how the Caps fare in getting shots, they might light him up for five goals on 18 shots.
3. In by two, out by three. It’s a 2:00 start – an odd time to start a hockey game, even for a weekend. But whatever time they start, having a solid first period makes all the difference. The Caps are one of four teams with an unblemished record after 20 minutes this season (15-0-0). If he Caps are leading at 3:00 (approximately when the second period will start), it will be a good omen.
In the end, one can now think of this as the beginning of the stretch run. The Caps get their captain back, Mike Green is at least skating again. And this is Montreal. There is much to feel good about, or at least much to get up for in this one. Flat is not going to cut it.
Caps 4 – Canadiens 2