Montreal Canadiens vs. Washington Capitals
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: Sportsnet East, CityTV (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Capitals region: Monumental Sports Network
Entering the season on 822 goals, the question surrounding Alexander Ovechkin was: “when?” Despite the winger’s advancing age and widespread acknowledgement that his Washington Capitals were well past their high point, the general consensus was that Ovechkin would eventually pass Wayne Gretzky atop the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring leaderboard. If not next year, then the year after.
Three games into the season, the question surrounding Ovechkin is now more of an “if.”
It’s not just that the Muscovite has failed to score through three games — even Ovechkin is no stranger to multi-game goalless droughts. Rather, it’s how he has looked while doing so. Washington’s captain has failed to register a power-play shot on target yet this season, and just went without a shot on goal in consecutive games for the first time in his career. The team — still led by the old guard of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, and John Carlson — has been described as “slow” and “rusty,” with new head coach Spencer Carbury saying that they have a “more than you would call normal” number of players still looking to find their game.
For Washington, Montreal can be a looming oasis on the horizon or the final nail in the coffin.
|42.7% (29th)||Scoring-chances-for %||48.7% (19th)|
|3.33 (12th)||Goals per game||1.00 (32nd)|
|4.00 (25th)||Goals against per game||4.00 (28th)|
|9.1% (26th)||PP%||0.0% (32nd)|
|73.7% (20th)||PK%||69.2% (26th)|
|1-2-0||Head-to-head record (’22-23)||2-1-0|
Ovechkin, owner of 37 goals and 64 points in 55 career games against the Canadiens, could not ask for a better opponent to break his slump. The Capitals’ power play, goalless in eight attempts, would relish the chance to get in more reps against the league’s most penalized team. If the Habs hold true to form and the Capitals still come out on the losing end of the scoreboard, then the 2023-24 season might be over before it’s even started.
Of course, nothing says that the Canadiens have to just sit there and hold to form. So far, the Habs have played one good game (vs. the Chicago Blackhawks), one average game (vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs), and one poor game (vs. the Minnesota Wild). They haven’t had a hot hand to ride, instead scraping by (or not) on offence from different parts of the lineup. Fifteen Canadiens have recorded a point so far, but no one has more than three. They’ve been exceptional at five-on-five, scoring eight times and allowing a single tally in reply. This isn’t all smoke and mirrors either, as the Habs also hold a 53% expected goals share — a substantial improvement on last year’s 43%.
The problem is that Montreal has consistently found ways to shoot themselves in the foot. Some of them are seemingly innocuous, like the offsides on Cole Caufield’s disallowed goal that wiped a 3-0 lead over Toronto off the scoreboard. Some are more egregious, like giving up two short-handed goals on the same power play. Some are downright debilitating, like giving up 19 power plays in three games. The bottom line is that the Canadiens have not had a comfortable game to date this season — something that ideally should change sooner rather than later.
Kirby Dach’s absence sent reverberating shockwaves through the Canadiens’ forward corps, but the top-to-bottom futility displayed in the Minnesota game gave no indications for obvious lineup changes. The defence will be different though, as Justin Barron likely slides in for an injured Kaiden Guhle. Jake Allen is expected to get the start.
From the Washington perspective, all three ex-Habs — Joel Edmundson, Max Pacioretty, and Charlie Lindgren — find themselves in the injured reserve. Lindgren’s absence has forced the Capitals to call up undrafted journeyman Clay Stevenson from AHL Hershey, meaning that Darcy Kuemper will likely get the start on Saturday night. Up front, leading scorer Matthew Phillips has earned a promotion to the top line with Ovechkin and Dylan Strome, relegating Wilson to the third trio with Backstrom and Sonny Milano. Longueuil native Anthony Mantha finds himself on the fourth line.
Washington needs to show that their era is not yet over. Montreal needs to show that another season in the basement is not an inevitability.