The Washington Capitals (36-16-5-77, first in Southeast) open a five-game homestand with the Montreal Canadiens (30-21-6-66, second in Northeast), losers of three of their last four games and 3-7 in their last 10 contests, from Verizon Center at 7:00 pm.
The Caps return to the "Phone Booth" after a successful 2-0-1 road trip, including winning both ends of a weekend jaunt across the Sunshine State, a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on Friday and a 4-2 over Florida on Saturday.
The victory in Miami was propelled by Alex Ovechkin's third hat trick of the season, notching the tie-breaking goal with 2:31 remaining in the third period, and adding an empty netter with 10 seconds left on the clock. The three tallies raised Ovie's league-leading total to 41 and gives him 74 points, now trailing just Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (82) for the scoring title.
Washington places four skaters in the NHL's top 50 scorers, with Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom (13th, with 60 points), and Mike Green and Alexander Semin tied with others for 31st. Green leads all defensemen in goals (22) and points (50).
Jose Theodore will start in goal for the Caps tonight. He's 12-4-0 with a 2.11 goals-against average at home this season, and earned his 27th career shutout with 28 saves in a 3-0 win over Montreal on Nov. 28 at the Verizon Center.
Washington will once again be without the services of Viktor Kozlov. The Caps fifth leading scorer will miss his sixth straight game with a pulled groin. Staffan Kronwall will be scratched, as well. Washington also sent Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner down AHL Hershey yesterday.
Montreal is in a free-fall, both on the ice and off. Not only have they been terrible of late, losing 10 of 13, but they sent their second leading scorer, Alex Kovalev, home from their season-high six game road trip for some "time off" to "rest his body and mind," according to a report from the Associated Press.
Kovalev beat out Alex Ovechkin for the third starting forward spot in the NHL All-Star game, and was named the game's MVP following a two-goal performance. Canadiens' GM Bob Gainey said, "The team doesn't need him the way he's playing now."
Montreal made two other significant roster moves, acquiring veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider from Atlanta, and demoting left winger Sergei Kostitsyn to AHL Hamilton.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price has struggled of late as well, and has ditched his new red pads in favor of the older white ones to try to change his luck.
Montreal is tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference, but only five points out of ninth place, leaving them vulnerable for a late-season collapse--right out of the playoffs.
WAS: PP-3rd (23.6%, 56/237); PK-21st (80.1%, 55/276)
MON: PP-25th (16.1%, 42/261); PK-12th (82.1%, 46/257)
WAS: G Brent Johnson (Hip-IR); RW Chris Clark (Wrist-IR); RW Viktor Kozlov (Groin-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-IR)
MON: LW Guillaume Latendresse (Shoulder-IR); LW Alex Tanguay (Shoulder-IR); RW Alexei Kovalev (Healthy scratch-Out); C Robert Lang (Achilles'-IR); C Tomas Plekanec (Suspended)