When the Canadiens last visited Washington, D.C., they took a 4-1 victory from the Capitals that dropped the home team to 0-3. The Capitals would continue to play through two horrid months, starting the month of March with a number of points, fifteen, equal to their rank in the conference. Fast forward five weeks, and the Capitals have vaulted themselves into the playoff picture, largely on the play of star forward Alex Ovechkin. The talented Russian has amassed 25 goals on the season, good for a share of the lead in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy. Ovechkin has been particularly hot of late, with 14 goals in 11 games.
Compounding the challenge of containing the Capitals best weapon is the depletion of the Canadiens' defence corps. Alexei Emelin's season is over following his collision with Milan Lucic, and the Canadiens are still waiting for Raphael Diaz's return to health. Taking Emelin's roster spot will be Nathan Beaulieu, while Davis Drewiske will move up to a pairing with Andrei Markov. Emelin and Diaz, along with Colby Armstrong, are team's only injured players at the moment.
With Emelin added to the Canadiens' injured, Rene Bourque looks primed to emerge from that same group. Bourque has been practicing with his teammates of late, and as Andrew noted on Sunday, was working on the fourth line beside Halpern and Moen. Bourque's return is a boon to the Canadiens depth, and it will be interesting to see if he can make an impact down the lineup. Prior to his injury, Bourque spent most of his minutes taking tough comp on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. Bourque was effective in that role, but with Michael Ryder now firmly emplaced in Bourque's old spot, Bourque will have to show that he can contribute in a new role.
The Capitals have a couple of injury concerns as well. Newly-acquired Martin Erat was boarded by the Florida Panthers' Erik Gudbranson in his second game as a Capital, and has been day-to-day since. It is unclear if he'll be fit to take the ice tonight. Brooks Laich has been listed as day-to-day recently as well, and with the Washington Times reporting that he'll a visit a specialist today, the Capitals are not likely to have him at their service. Finally, the Capitals will also be without Joel Ward, who left the Capitals' Sunday game with the Tampa Bay Lightning after blocking a shot.
The Capitals will have the services of Michal Neuvirth, who will be starting this evening. Neuvirth played the last game against the Habs as well, taking the loss. Neuvirth has just a .902 save percentage this season, but has a 4-2-0 record against the Habs with a .925 save percentage in his career.
The Canadiens will go right back to their superstar, Carey Price, following his strong performance against the Bruins on Saturday. In addition to watching out for Ovechkin, Price will have to contend with the Capitals powerplay, as they have assumed the league lead with a 25.2% efficiency rate on the man-advantage. Price will have to keep his wits about him, as this success is at least partially attributable to the Capitals strategy of shooting the puck when their opponent has fewer players on the ice than they do. Price has earned only three wins against the Capitals prior to this season, and he'll look to make it 2-for-2013 tonight.
For Capitals coverage, analysis of Ovechkin's recent success, and a preview of tonight's game from the opposing perspective, check out Japers' Rink.