Locked into a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, the Montreal Canadiens may have picked the wrong time for a scoring drought - especially with one of the league’s top teams coming to town.
The Washington Capitals end their six-game road trip Saturday night in Montreal as they continue their pursuit of the conference’s top seed without Alexander Ovechkin.
The Capitals (43-22-10) missed an opportunity Friday to tie first-place Philadelphia, falling 2-0 to lowly Ottawa. They remain two points back of the Flyers and four points ahead of third-place Boston.
Friday marked the 10th time the Capitals were shut out and the second straight game played without their captain Ovechkin, who will be out roughly another week with an undisclosed injury.
Washington had won 11 of its previous 12 games and has a commanding seven-point lead in the Southeast Division over second-place Tampa Bay. The Capitals are 3-2-0 on their road trip, but just 2-2-0 following a season-high nine-game winning streak.
Semyon Varlamov(notes) made 21 saves in his first start since Feb. 20 after sitting out 14 games with a lower-body injury. He was a last-minute replacement for Michal Neuvirth(notes), who fell ill prior to the game.
“Coaches can adjust. I just don’t know how much it throws the players off,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “(If) guys get sick, guys get sick. There’s not much you can do about it - just put the other guy in. I thought (Varlamov) did good for his first game in a month.”
Varlamov is 1-0-1 with a 0.96 goals-against average versus the Canadiens this season, and 3-0-1 with a 1.45 GAA against them lifetime during the regular season.
Varlamov made 25 saves Dec. 28 in a 3-0 win against Montreal - only the second time in the last 39 meetings the Capitals have shut out the Canadiens.
Similarly to that contest, Montreal hasn’t scored recently either.
The Canadiens (40-28-7) have been blanked in two straight games, including a 7-0 rout at the hands of rival Boston on Thursday. Montreal, sixth in the East, fell five points behind the Bruins in the Northeast Division and are just two points ahead of the seventh-place New York Rangers.
The Canadiens held a players-only meeting Friday in hopes of turning things around with just six games remaining.
“We talked about (Thursday’s game) after practice, we turned the page and now we have to get ready for Washington,” Plekanec told the team’s official website. “Right now, we need to make the playoffs and we haven’t yet so we have to go out and get some wins.
“We have a lot of character in this dressing room and we’ve responded well to tough games and tough situations all season long. This will be no different.”
Carey Price(notes) fell to 1-4-0 with a 4.14 GAA in his last five starts, which includes a 4-2 loss March 15 against the Capitals, and was pulled midway through the third period Thursday after allowing five goals.