That’s because the league-leading Washington Capitals are in town to face the Habs on the first of the back-to-back matinées held on this weekend. With 13 victories in 2017 already, the Capitals haven’t given up points easily this season, and taking two points from this game will be a tough ask for a Habs team that looked sluggish on Thursday evening.
There are few implications from this game when it comes to the standings, but a win would be welcome when it comes to securing the Habs’ positioning atop the Atlantic Division. The Senators may not yet be banging at the door, but with three games in hand that position is already in jeopardy.
In any case, this is perhaps the premier sports weekend of the year, and the Bell Centre will be hosting two very entertaining teams on consecutive days leading up to the big event on Sunday evening. You couldn’t ask for much more than that.
How to watch
Puck drop: 1:00 PM EST / 10:00 AM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet (English), RDS (French)
In the United States: CSN-DC
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|52.96||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||52.92|
|1.31||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.82|
The Capitals were unbeatable at the beginning of the calendar year, winning nine straight from New Year’s Eve through January 15. That streak included a 4-1 victory over the Habs in Washington — a result the Habs would quite like to not see replicated Saturday afternoon.
Unsurprisingly, Alex Ovechkin was the catalyst in that contest as he netted a goal and assisted on two others en route to the win. For the Habs to turn the tables this time around they’ll need to find a way to shut Ovechkin down. That’s a task easier said than done, as Ovie sits just outside the top-10 in league scoring.
Better still has been Nicklas Backstrom, who sits at exactly a point-per-game after 51 matches this season. With 37 assists, only Connor McDavid has more helpers than Backstrom this year, making him a major reason Washington boasts the most even-strength goals for in the NHL.
The offensive capabilities of the Capitals are well-documented, of course, but more impressive this season has been the way they have suffocated opposing shooters. No team has conceded fewer goals than Washington this season, and they allow just 1.59 per game at five-on-five.
For this, Braden Holtby deserves a great deal of credit. The reigning Vezina Trophy-winner is in the hunt to repeat, boasting a .929 save percentage in his 39 starts this season. Of course, the Capitals’ system plays a part in this, too. As a team, Washington refuses to allow many shots, which makes it not altogether surprising that backup Philipp Grubauer has been nearly equal to Holtby thus far.
With a strong penalty kill as well, the Capitals’ are a supremely difficult opponent. No team has been better at even-strength, and few have been more disciplined.
We shouldn’t sell the Habs short; they’re not far behind the Capitals in many categories. However, it’s clear that if the Habs are to win, the level of play is going to need to look a lot different than it did in Philadelphia on Thursday night.