The Capitals returned to the ice at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex this morning. It was for the first time in a week, following their recent three-game road trip.
They open up a season long five-game home stand Wednesday night when they welcome the struggling Montreal Canadiens to the Verizon Center.
“Really nice to be home, sleeping in your own bed,” Caps D Mike Green said. “It was nice to get the wins on the road and get five out of six points, but now these are important games, (and) we get a chance to play in front of our fans again. That’s always exciting. We’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
Nine of the team’s next 10 games are all at the Verizon Center, where Washington has racked up the best home record in the Eastern Conference (22-4-1). But head coach Bruce Boudreau knows that even though the team has excelled at home this year, nothing is going to be handed to them.
“Anytime you look at that and think it’s going to be easier, you’re in for a lot of trouble,” Boudreau said. “It’s hard to win games in this league. We had it (a home stand) last year at the same time, and we thought it was going to be easy, and we basically went .500 in the schedule. It’s a game-by-game thing, and we can’t let ourselves think of nine out of 10 (at home). Right now it’s one game, and it’s against a very hungry team in Montreal.”
"Hungry" is one way to describe the Canadiens; "desperate" would be another. They are 3-10-0 in their last 13 games, and while they are still in sixth place in the East, they are now only two points ahead of the Sabres, who occupy the eighth and final playoff spot.
Carey Price, the 21-year-old Canadiens goaltender, was handed the starting position last season after the team traded Cristobal Huet to the Caps. But he's only 2-7-0 since his return from a lower-body injury in January, and he’s given up 12 goals in his last two starts.
Backup Jaroslav Halak hasn’t faired much better: He’s 1-3-0 in his last four starts and has given up 13 goals in the three losses.
Despite Montreal's struggles, the Caps are not about to take the Canadiens lightly.
“Halak has played great against us, (and) Price has played great against us,” Boudreau said. “These are top-notch players. If they’re struggling, eventually they’re going to get back to where they were. We just hope that’s not tomorrow night.”
Green knows the team must be ready, no matter the opponent.
“We usually play bad against teams that are struggling,” Green said. “They make it tough on us. Hopefully, they’re not on their ‘A’ game tomorrow and we can take advantage of it, because tomorrow is an important game for us.”
While Green saw his NHL record eight-game scoring streak come to an end Sunday against the Panthers, another Capital extended his streak to four games in the win.
RW Eric Fehr has been red-hot as of late, with six goals and nine points in his last eight games.
“I’ve been given a pretty good opportunity to play with some good players that have been setting me up the last couple games,” Fehr said. “I’ve been putting pucks to the net all year, maybe the big change would be that they’re finally going in.”
Coach Boudreau was quick with an analogy.
“If you’re a baseball player and you’re hitting the ball, the pitches seem slower,” Boudreau said. “When things are going well, the net looks like a soccer net. The holes that you’re going through look huge. It’s a good feeling and we’d like it to continue.”
Green isn't the least bit bitter that his teammate now holds a longer streak.
“I played against him in junior,” Green said of Fehr. “When he gets hot, he gets really hot. He’ll start scoring goals in a bunch. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s on a streak right now. He’s been playing so well for us. I’m just proud of him. He’s come a long way since a year-and-a-half ago, and he’s a great player. He’s got a bright future.”
The Caps hope to continue their good fortune as they look to record their 12th straight home win against an Eastern Conference opponent.