Pregame #71: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Washington Capitals (40-20-10) at Montreal Canadiens (38-24-7)
The Bell Centre
7:00 PM
TV: CSN-DC Plus (CSN+ Channel Finder) (Game On!), TSN
Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Previous Games:
Dec 28, 2010 MTL@WSH 3-0 W
Feb 1, 2011 MTL@WSH 2-3 SOL
Games Remaining:
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 Caps’ roll continued on Sunday with a big overtime win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.  If the Caps are going to extend their 8-game winning streak, they’ll need to do so without injured center Jason Arnott, who did not make the trip.  The coaching staff could plug Nicklas Backstrom back into the lineup tonight, but the real question would be where he would fit.  With rookie Marcus Johansson playing so well on the top line, Coach Boudreau could decide to but Backstrom on the second line with Alex Semin. If Backstrom doesn’t go tonight, the Caps could decide to recall C Mathieu Perreault from the AHL Hershey Bears or try Brooks Laich at #2 center. 

Les Habitants are on a roll.  Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge have won 6 of their last 7 games and they are creeping up on Tampa Bay for the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Le Tricolore have been winning games all year with stout defense and goaltending, but lately they’ve been piling on the goals, too.  Les Glorieux have scored 30 goals in their last 9 games (7-2-0), an average of 3.33 goals per game.

Injury Report:  Capitals C Jason Arnott (undisclosed) is not on the trip and is listed as week-to-week.  Defensemen Mike Green (head) and Tom Poti (groin) are on long-term injured reserve. G Semyon Varlamov (knee) is out.  C Nicklas Backstrom (hand) is questionable.
Les Canadiens de Montréal are expecting to be without Défenseur Andrei Markov (knee), Défenseur Josh Gorges (knee), Défenseur Jaroslav Spacek (lower body), Ailier Gauche Mathieu Darche (groin), and Ailier Gauche Max Pacioretty (broken neck). Ailier Gauche Michael Cammalleri (flu) and Défenseur Brent Sopel (hand) are questionable.

Find out why it could get hairy in Montréal!

What to watch for:

A.K. 46: Habs LW Andrei Kostitsyn (#46) has been leading the team’s offensive charge over the past 2 and a half weeks. He put together a 7-game point streak in which he posted 3 goals (2 game-winners) and 9 points. He has been held off the scoresheet for the last 2 games, but the big Belarussian is still dangerous.  Look for the Caps to try to shut him down tonight. 

Where’s my MoJo?:   With Jason Arnott out and Nicklas Backstrom possibly returning to the lineup, Caps rookie center Marcus Johansson is in limbo.  He has centered the top line with Alex Ovechkin for the last 3 games and has a +1 rating and an assist in each for his longest scoring streak of the season, but he could move down to the 2nd or 3rd line tonight.  Johansson is trending up, he has 2 goals and 9 points in his last 14 games to go along with a +4 rating and a much improved faceoff mark of 45.9%. Mackan had his hands full against the champs on Sunday, taking two penalties, but he also took a season high 7 shots on goal and had 2 hits, 2 takeaways, and 3 blocked shots. Oh, and he had the game-winning assist on Mike Knuble’s overtime goal.   It might a good idea to leave the top line alone.

Neu face in net:  With newly crowned #1 star of the week Braden Holtby still on recall from Hershey, Bruce Boudreau will have a tough time putting anyone else in net to start this road trip.   Tarik El-Bashir wrote a piece on the need for the Caps to hand Michal Neuvirth the starter’s job and let him run with it, and that’s exactly what the Caps should do.  While Holtby showed a couple cracks, he was still more than solid in his last game against Chicago.   That said, Neuvirth has been shouldering the load all season and has the experience advantage over Holtby.  Neuvy has shown he’s capable of winning and, after this interlude, he should be refreshed and ready to backstop the Caps deep into the postseason.