Less than 24 hours after seeing their longest winning streak of the season snapped, the Washington Capitals have a chance to get back on track.
It won’t be easy against another one of the NHL’s hottest teams.
The Capitals seek to bounce back Saturday night when they visit the Montreal Canadiens, winners of three straight games and eight of 10.
Washington (27-12-3) had won seven straight and 12 of its last 13 entering Friday night, but ran into a hot goalie in Steve Mason and fell 3-0 at home to Columbus. Mason stopped all 45 shots for his second shutout this season over the Capitals, who lost at the Verizon Center for the first time since a 5-3 loss to Florida on Dec. 2.
“It has to happen one day,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You get snakebitten. But good teams rebound from it and, hopefully, we’re a good team.”
Capitals star Alex Ovechkin failed to score despite putting 12 shots on net. Washington is 7-6-1 this season when Ovechkin either has no points or doesn’t play, compared with a 20-6-2 mark when he records at least one point.
Those would appear to be All-Star caliber numbers, as are Ovechkin’s 27 goals - tied for the league lead. However, the fans, possibly influenced by the All-Star game’s location in Montreal later this month, failed to elect Ovechkin a starter and gave him fewer votes than three Montreal forwards - Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay.
“It’s not right the best player in the game is not a starter,” said Boudreau, who also referred to the vote as “dumb.” “But it is what it is. We want to get the fans involved, and they’ve got the right to vote for whoever they want.”
Ovechkin has a goal and an assist in two games versus Montreal this season. The Capitals won both meetings by a combined 5-1 margin, including a 3-0 home victory Nov. 28 behind 26 saves from former Canadien Jose Theodore. That game still stands as both Montreal’s lone shutout loss of the season and Theodore’s only shutout in a Washington uniform.
Halak has been in net for all three games of his team’s current winning streak. He made 30 saves and benefited from Montreal’s surging offense, which scored six goals for the third straight contest.
“Everyone played so well and Jaro made the big saves,” said defenseman Patrice Brisebois, who assisted on all three of the Canadiens’ first-period goals. “It’s a huge two points and it’s fun. We’re playing great hockey right now.”
Montreal, 8-1-1 since a season-high three-game losing streak, has a showdown with the Northeast Division-leading Bruins in Boston on Tuesday. Koivu, who has missed 12 games with a lower-body injury, could be ready to return to the lineup by then according to a report on the Canadiens’ official Web site.
“When the team is winning, it’s a lot easier to ease into your return to the lineup,” Koivu said. “At this point of my career, I’ve had enough injuries in my day to know that rushing things is never a good idea.”