It wasn't very long ago that the Washington Capitals were struggling, and Bruce Boudreau's job was in jeopardy..
How times have changed as Alex Ovechkin and company are now in the chase for first place in the NHL's Eastern Conference, riding an eight-game winning streak.
Part of their recent success falls on rookie goaltender Braden Haltby. In his recent call-up, the 21-year old goalie had four wins and a shutout, earning the NHL's First Star of the Week. Holtby's week didn't end perfectly, as the Capitals lost their lead and had to squeak out a 4-3 OT win against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The close to his week parallels a season, where he has gone 8-2-2 with a 1.95 GAA and .931 SvPct. But whether or not he is the real deal remains to be seen, as his stats can be misleading. His shutout came against the lowly Edmonton Oilers and two wins have come in relief of the starting goalie. His first call-up in November was less than stellar when he was lit up by the Atlanta Thrashers and still struggling New Jersey Devils.
We'll get a better answer tonight, as he should get the call against Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.
Of course the true catalyst to the Caps success is their captain Ovechkin, who has 17 points in his last 13 games. While his goal scoring totals are certainly off prior standards, Ovechkin remains in the top-ten in scoring and 10 of his 28 goals this season have been game winners.
Some roster moves at the trade deadline have also contributed to Washington's recent success. They solidified their defense by acquiring Dennis Wideman from the Florida Panthers, and added serious depth at center by trading for veteran Jason Arnott.
If there's any way the Capitals could improved, it would be in their sick bay. Niklas Backstrom is nursing a broken finger and defenceman Mike Green has been out with a concussion. Green is on injured reserve and, while skating with the team, is unable to return until March 22 at the earliest.
The Canadiens are coming off a successful 3-0 road win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and have won six of their last seven games.
There will likely be no lineup changes expected to be made, as coach Jacques Martin typically doesn't change a winning formula until five or ten minutes into a game.
Mike Cammalleri did skip Monday's practice, battling the flu and will likely be a game-time decision. Mathieu Darche (groin) is skating with the team, as is Brent Sopel, who did not use his injured left hand very often. Both of those players will be out tonight.
The Capitals and Canadiens have split their first two meetings, both at the Verizon Center. Washington won 3-0 on Dec 28, and the Habs won in a 3-2 shootout on February 1. This is the first game of a six-game road trip for the Capitals. They will close it out with their final regular season meeting in Montreal next Saturday.
More Capitals coverage from Japers' Rink.