It's deja vu in the District of Columbia, as for the second week in a row, the Habs are in town for a Friday clash at the Verizon Center.
Last week's affair turned into a 3-2 victory for the Habs, their second in a row. That streak has since doubled, and if the Canadiens are hoping to add another pair of victories to the two-pair they're currently holding, they'll need to start by coming out on top in tonight's first leg of a back-to-back.
One of the top Habs of last week's clash was Peter Budaj, who held the Capitals at bay for most of the night. As noted after that game, the win ran Budaj's post-lockout record to an impressive 12-2-1. Focusing on this year, Budaj owns a 4-1 record, .942 save percentage, and 1.58 goals against average.
The man who bested Budaj for both Capitals goals last week was the omnipresent sniper Alexander Ovechkin. Despite Montreal's efforts to matchup against the talented Russian, his presence in the offensive zone culminated in twelve shot attempts, the most among players on either team. From the Canadiens' defensive perspective, look for a strategy similar to the one that was used last week - lots of Subban and Andrei Markov in the defensive zone, lining up against the offensively-oriented Ovi line.
While the Caps top line proved a challenge to contain, the Habs were able to leverage their depth into an advantage when the Great 8 was not on the ice. The Canadiens iced a shutdown trio to bang heads with the Capitals' best, and when their work was done, the Habs exploitation line of Pacioretty - Desharnais - Gallagher did some damage of their own. Similarly, the Habs fourth line of Moen - White - Bournival had a field day against their Washingtonian counterparts, beating up on a group composed of two youngsters and journeyman Aaron Volpatti. If the Habs can create similar matchups to those that featured in the most recent contest, they should be setting themselves up for success, barring the possibility of another explosion Ovechkin.
One difference in lineups between this week and last is the absence of Douglas Murray, who took some hard shots in a scrap with Sabres enforcer John Scott on Wednesday. Michel Therrien has been alternating sixth defencemen lately, so it may have been Bouillon's turn anyway, but Murray's minor injury is likely extra incentive to give the Cube his turn.
A final variable to consider is the Capitals goaltending situation. Michal Neuvirth was decent against the Habs, but not a world-beater by any means. Neuvirth has since sustained a minor injury, increasing the chance that the Canadiens will see starter Braden Holtby tonight instead. Holtby has been superb in his three career games against the Habs, allowing only three goals combined. Montreal's skaters would seem to have the definite advantage against the Caps, but Holtby is a strong 'keeper, and the time of player who could tip the game in his team's favour with a strong performance.
For news and notes from the Caps current four game losing streak, and a look back at Martin Erat's ill-fated tenure in Washington, our sister site, Japers' Rink, has you covered. SBNation's NHL coverage also recently featured a look at Alex Ovechkin's aspirations toward the 70 goal plateau, which you can find here. If Ovi's previous performances against the Habs are any indication, he'll probably reach the milestone tonight.
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