Friday, January 4, 2008

Habs/Caps Preview

Washington Capitals at Montréal Canadiens
Saturday, January 5th, 12:30 PM
Bell Centre in Montréal, Québec

The Canadiens are actually a lot like the Capitals last opponent, the Boston Bruins: they've been successful by playing tight defense, have a deep blue line, a solid goalie and aren't dependent on one player to score. And although they're built in much the same way, they're much better than the Bruins. But the Habs were also outshot by the Capitals 37-21 the last time the two teams played (12/20, in D.C.), so the karma should be on the Caps side. Plus the Habs haven't been playing well on home ice so far this season.

It seems silly to keep saying it, but this is an important game. The Islanders, Bruins, Flyers, Maple Leafs, Panthers and Rangers are all in action tomorrow and all lead the Capitals by seven points or less. With a win tomorrow, and a little luck, the Caps could be in a great position to pull themselves into a playoff spot during their upcoming five-game homestand. With a loss, they're likely to still be in a very deep hole.

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About the Opponent

Montréal Canadiens (20-13-7, 47 points, second in the Northeast Division, fourth in the Eastern Conference)

Team Leaders
Goals: Alexei Kovalev (17)
Assists: Saku Koivu (24)
Points: Alexei Kovalev (36)
Plus/Minus: tie - Christopher Higgins and Roman Hamerlik (+6)
Penalty Minutes: Tom Kostopoulos (66)
Fights: Tom Kostopoulos (6)

Betcha Didn't Know....
When the Canadiens traded José Théodore on March 8th, 2006 they were left with Cristobal Huet and David Aebischer as their goalies - the first time the team did not have at least one French-Canadian goalie on their team since the 1965-66 season.

Random Canadiens Statistic
Center Tomas Plekanec has been a plus player every North American he's played for, every season he's played in where he dressed for more than two games - three in the AHL and two and half (including this season) in the NHL. In a pair of two game stints (one in the AHL, one in the NHL) Plekanec was even each time, meaning he has never posted a minus rating in North America.

Keys to the Game

Stay out of the box. I swear I have other keys to the game and I'm not going to run this one out every time. The Canadiens are the best in the NHL (24.2%) on the powerplay and powerplay goals account for 36.9% of their total goals.

Get ahead early. The Canadiens can be a shutdown team in their own end and have two very good goalies in Huet and Carey Price, so if the Habs score first score first it could be very difficult for Washington to mount a comeback.

Players to Watch

Alexander Ovechkin - after a four-goal game, followed by a two-assist game, (both against the Senators) Ovechkin was left point-less (as well his teammates) against Boston. Given that Ovechkin loves showcasing his talent in Canada, he's unlikely to go two games in a row without registering a goal (let alone a point) and the Capitals could pull to within four points of a playoff spot with a win in today's game, look for Ovechkin to again come up big.

Cristobal Huet/Carey Price - the last time these two teams met Huet had 35 saves on 37 shots. Price was the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft, put up a .936 save percentage in the playoffs last year en route to a Calder Cup win for the Hamilton Bulldogs (over the Hershey Bears) and has shown that he can cope with the bright lights and high expectations of Montréal fan at the age of 20. With either in net the Caps have their work cut out for them.

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