It finally came together.
After a full quarter season in which the Canadiens, almost without exception, were unable to unite production with results, they did so in grand fashion at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
Montreal laid a beating on the Minnesota Wild, putting six goals past goaltenders Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper. That offensive outburst included a natural hat-trick for the previously snakebitten Max Pacioretty, one of 2013's best showings for David Desharnais, and a goal apiece for impressive rookie Michael Bournival and underproductive veteran Daniel Briere.
So, with their best game of the season under their belts, can Montreal make it two in a row?
The Habs are headed to the U.S. capital of Washington D.C., where they'll take on a team whose current standing is not unlike their own. The Capitals, under head coach Adam Oates, are following something a familiar formula to earn their victories. The Capitals play a firewagon brand of hockey, scoring and allowing far more goals than the Canadiens so far.
As is typical, the Capitals' offensive catalyst is none other than the Great 8, as the Russian superstar is again leading the NHL in goals. Ovi has 17 goals on the year so far, and when combined with his seven assists, Ovechkin is fifth in the NHL in points as well. At almost 21 minutes per night, the winger is also one of the league's most-played forwards, meaning that Montreal will have to make a concerted effort to ensure that his trio with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson is afforded the appropriate attention.
The man who will act as Montreal's last line of defense against Washington's sniper is Peter Budaj, taking the first leg of the Habs Friday-Saturday back-to-back. Saint Peter has been nothing short of dependable this year, earning a 3-1 record by way of a .945 save percentage. Tonight's game should represent a special challenge for Budaj, however, as he has been unsuccessful in three attempts to beat the Capitals. The Slovakian keeper has allowed ten goals in his three losses, and given Montreal's hit or miss offense so far this year, it's probably fair to say that the Habs will need better than that.
The man at the other end of the rink will probably be Braden Holtby, though as of this writing, this has not yet been confirmed. While the Habs will leave DC and head home to host the Penguins, the Capitals will be making the trip to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs. As they are likely to give each goalie a start in the next two games, the possibility exists that backup Michal Neuvirth will see the Habs instead. Nevertheless, working on the assumption that the Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native, Holtby, will be the man facing Montreal, the Canadiens may have a significant challenge on their hands.
While Holtby has grown from a fleeting playoff hero in his rookie season to a reliable starter in the District of Columbia, he has been especially strong against Les Glorieux. Holtby is yet to lose in his three starts against Montreal, allowing only three total goals in those matchups. As is the case in any NHL game, it goes without saying that the opposing keeper has a chance to be the difference maker this evening.
If Montreal is to overcome Holtby and his teammates, their best shot may be their depth. Through the addition of centre Mikhail Grabovski, the erstwhile Toronto Maple Leaf forward who was paid to leave the Air Canada Centre so long as he would hold the door for David Clarkson on his way out, Washington added a second line player who can drive possession and play against the opponent's best. On the whole, however, Washington is a possession-starved group, and if Montreal's strong bottom lines can take advantage of what could be favourable matchups, Montreal should have a good chance to generate some pressure.
For a closer look at the career trajectory of Braden Holtby, and a neat little article on Washington's recent shooting performance how it relates to their 2010 playoff series with the Habs, click through to Japers' Rink.
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- Highlights and postgame comments from the Habs' win over Minnesota
- Game Recap: Pacioretty hat trick leads to a rout
- Habs vs Wild: Scoring chances
- Wednesday Habs Links: How good is Carey Price?
- Top Six Minutes: Max Pacioretty Has Something To Show You, Haters
- Max Pacioretty's natural hat trick against the Wild
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