Pregame #39: Washington Capitals vs. Montréal Canadiens

Washington Capitals (21-12-5) vs. Montréal Canadiens (20-14-2)
Verizon Center
Time: 7:00PM
Radio: XM, 1500AM, 820AM
Previous Games:(none)
Games Remaining:
Feb 1,   2011 MTL@WSH 7:30 PM ET
Mar 15, 2011 WSH@MTL 7:00 PM ET
Mar 26, 2011 WSH@MTL 7:00 PM ET
Friendly Faces of Former Capitals: Jeff Halpern (1999-2006)
Sons of Former Capitals: Tom Pyatt, son of Nelson Pyatt (1974-76)
The Enemy:
Eyes on the Prize

The Capitals get a chance for redemption tonight as they face off against their first-round playoff opponent from last spring. The Caps will be eager to get on the board early against Les Habitants Gardien de but Carey Price, who has to be considered a Vezina trophy candidate. Price is leading the league with 19 wins, is 4th with 4 shutouts, and is 6th in Save Percentage (.923) and Goals Against Average (2.27). The Caps will have to make him uncomfortable if they hope to succeed.

Yesterday’s Caps practice was the most crowded I have seen the Kettler Capitals Iceplex since the annual Caps/Flyers rookie game in September. The Caps had a full practice complete with line rushes and wind sprints.  Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom seem to have found their chemistry, as they were completing complex passing plays in practice.  Look for their line to put up some points against the Habs with Mike Knuble crashing the crease.  Rookie center Marcus Johansson was a notable absence, taking what Bruce Boudreau calls a maintenance day.  Matt Hendricks took Perreault’s spot on the second line with Brooks Laich and Alex Semin.  The only injured Capital to participate was D.J. King, but look for Hendricks to take the spot on that line with Dave Steckel and Andrew Gordon.  Jay Beagle was centering Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera, but Beagle may get moved to the wing with the recall of Keith Aucoin.

Injury Report: Defenseman Jeff Schultz (broken thumb, doubtful) has been participating in practice and is nearing a return. Winger Matt Bradley (broken finger), center Boyd Gordon (infected foot), and enforcer D.J. King (undisclosed) are also on injured reserve. Center Mathieu Perreault (broken nose) and defenseman Tom Poti (head) are doubtful for tonight’s game.  Winger Eric Fehr may miss the game for personal reasons.

Les Canadiens de Montréal will be without star défenseurAndrei Markov (knee) for the rest of the season. Ailier gaucheTravis Moen (flu) is day-to-day.

Mon Dieu! Pepe Le Pew dit de continuer!

What to watch for:

Keith Aucoin: Diminutive forward Keith Aucoin is known for his speed and creativity on the ice, but after taking a slapshot from to the leg from teammate Brian Willsie, he found himself in uncharted territory: the trainer’s table. Aucoin, who’s never played fewer than 73 games in a professional season, missed 16 AHL games between November 7 and December 17. Despite missing all that time, he’s tallied 8 goals and 24 points in just 15 games this season. In the 4 games since his return, the 2010 AHL MVP has been #2 star of the game (12/19), #1 star of the game (12/26), and has 3 goals and 6 points. His conditioning seems back up to normal, his speed has returned, and Aucoin seems poised to be a reliable fill-in for his recall.

Stay the Course: The Capitals have been playing sound defensive hockey and have been crashing the net.  This could be the best test of their new system, facing the team who vanquished them in the first round last year.  The Capitals won’t be looking past this game to the Winter Classic.

Special Teams: The Caps powerplay has been sputtering of late, that is, when they get a powerplay at all.  The Caps will be facing the NHL’s #3 penalty kill tonight, and will need a strong showing to dent Le Tricolore’s armor. Les Glorieux knew how to stop the Caps’ powerplay in the playoffs last year, but the Caps can gain some redemption tonight.  If the Caps can score on the powerplay, that could be the difference in the game, as an average Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge powerplay against isn’t likely to strike against a much improved Caps penalty kill.