Preview: Canadiens Face Caps as Dogfight for First Begins

Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin and Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty
Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin and Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty – (michael starghill/Flickr)

Remember the good ol’ days when the Canadiens were running away with the Presidents’ Trophy? You had better, as it was only a month ago that they were the toast of the league with a 13-1-1 record.

Just one mediocre 6-6-3 stretch later and, entering action Saturday night on the road, they’re the fifth-best team in the league. Their soon-to-be opponents, the Washington Capitals, are just one point behind with one less game played.

What’s more is the Caps are about as hot as possible with six straight wins and points in their last seven, all with Alexander Ovechkin playing at a lower level than fans are accustomed to. Both he and leading-scorer Nicklas Backstrom aren’t even among the team’s hottest players. See below for the full list.

Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals

Verizon Center – 7:00 p.m. EST

Broadcast channels – CITY, TVAS, NHLN-US, CSN-DC

2016-17 Season Series: First Matchup of the Season

Montreal Canadiens – 19-7-4 – 42 Points

Road Record: 5-5-2

Hot Players: Brian Flynn, Tomas Plekanec, Zach Redmond,

Key Injuries: Alex Galchenyuk, Andrew Shaw, David Desharnais, Greg Pateryn, Sven Andrighetto

Projected lines:


Max Pacioretty – Tomas Plekanec – Alexander Radulov

Daniel Carr – Philip Danault – Artturi Lehkonen

Paul Byron – Torrey Mitchell – Brendan Gallagher

Chris Terry – Brian Flynn – Michael McCarron


Alexei Emelin – Shea Weber

Andrei Markov – Jeff Petry

Nathan Beaulieu – Zach Redmond

Starting Goaltender

Carey Price


Washington Capitals – 19-7-3 – 41 Points

Home Record: 11-4-0

Hot Players: Marcus Johansson, Matt Niskanen, Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov

Key Injuries: None.

Projected lines:


Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Jakub Vrana

Daniel Winnik – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson


Karl Alzner – John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik – Nate Schmidt

Starting Goaltender

Braden Holtby

Game Notes

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap]Back-up goalie Al Montoya was initially slated to get the call tonight, but, because he went in against the San Jose Sharks last night after Carey Price was pulled after just half the game, Montreal’s superstar goalie is projected to play for the second time in two nights.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap]The only solace the Habs can find in facing the hottest team in the league is how the Capitals played last night (4-3 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes) too and had to travel back to Washington as well.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap]This is the only away game on this trip for the Habs, but after two games back at the Bell Centre, they head back out for seven straight on the road. In all, nine of the next 13 games are on the road.

Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap]Capitals forward Lars Eller will play the Habs for the first time since being traded this past summer. The early returns on management’s decision to essentially replace him with Andrew Shaw (in separate deals) have been positive, at least from an offensive perspective. Prior to getting injured against the Boston Bruins last Monday, Shaw had earned 15 points in 29 games. Eller has just four points on the season so far.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]5)[/miptheme_dropcap]To compensate for the injury to Sven Andrighetto, the Habs recalled St. John’s IceCaps leading scorer Chris Terry (26 points in 20 games). In five games this season with Montreal, Terry has one assist.

In spite of their recent struggles (and injuries), the Habs are still a healthy seven points up on the second-place Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic. However, with six of those early 13 wins coming against divisional rivals, it begs the question: Are the Habs just as good as their division is weak? They can start proving otherwise tonight.