Caps coach Adam Oates had a pair of strong choices for his starting goaltender tonight against the Canadiens in Montreal. Both Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth pitched shutouts in their previous visits to Bell Centre, and both goalies have strong career numbers against the Canadiens.
Holtby has been excellent for the Caps for the last five weeks and Neuvirth is coming off a solid start on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Oates has decided on Neuvirth to start tonight’s game as the Caps put their season-high four-game winning streak and their seven game road points streak (6-0-1) on the line tonight against the Canadiens, winners of five of their last six.
Neuvirth started and defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center on Sunday, making 28 saves to earn his third victory of the season. Neuvirth was sharp despite not having seen action in more than three weeks, and Oates wants him to feel as though he is part of the team and not just a guy who starts every dozen games or so. Hence the starting nod in Montreal tonight.
“I think that going forward – hopefully we’re getting into a playoff run – and you’re going to need both goalies,” says Oates. “I don’t want [Neuvirth] to feel that once every 10 games he is going to play. I don’t want him to feel that once every 10 games he is going to play. He needs to know that he’s part of our team. He played good the other night, he gets the start tonight and it gives Holts a little bit more rest.”
Washington has lost a top nine forward in each of its last three games. Brooks Laich left Thursday’s game against the Islanders in the third period with a lower body injury. Martin Erat departed Saturday’s contest in Florida with a lower body ailment and Joel Ward came out of Sunday’s game with the Lightning after blocking a Sami Salo slapshot in the third period.
Laich did not accompany his teammates on the trip to Montreal. Erat and Ward did make the trip, but neither took the ice with the rest of his teammates when Tuesday’s morning skate got underway at Bell Centre. Erat went out on the ice late in the skate, and he skated gingerly for a few minutes without taking part in any drills.
“Wardo is still hurt pretty good for that shot,” says Oates. “He came on the trip in case he got better but just wasn’t feeling good this morning. And Marty is just loosening up and is not quite ready yet.”
Washington has a dozen healthy forwards right now, and they’ll all be in the lineup tonight. Wojtek Wolski will see his first game action since March 30. Wolski has scored a couple big goals for the Caps this season, but he has been a healthy scratch in 13 of Washington’s last 16 games, this after playing in 22 of the team’s first 23 contests this season.
Wolski will skate the left side of a line with Montreal native and former Canadien Mike Ribeiro in the middle and Troy Brouwer on the right.
Alex Ovechkin’s line has been doing most of Washington’s offensive damage of late, and getting some secondary scoring would certainly be a plus for the Caps. Ribeiro and Brouwer haven’t had much continuity of late; Wolski becomes their fourth different linemate in as many games tonight.
“With our line,” says Brouwer, “it’s been a new guy every game just because of how things play out. But me and Ribs are trying to adapt and be able to play with anyone. It’s tough that we haven’t been able to get a set line for the last few games.
“Ovi is playing great right now. He is scoring goals like he needs to be doing and the rest of the team is following. But we do need to help him out. We can’t be relying on him every night to win games for us.”
Washington has played in eight cities in a span of 21 days, and the Caps have taken a point in every road game they’ve played in the last three weeks.
“We’ve had a few great character wins and we’ve kind of won in every situation,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson, “down two goals, down one goal, up a goal and then losing the lead and coming back. I think all that stuff helps with the morale. So maybe now it’s different than at the beginning of the year when you go down one or you squash a lead and you’re feeling like it’s not going well. We know how well we’ve been playing and what we can do and accomplish out there. It’s a lot easier to go out there and just play the game and not think about those things.”
The Caps haven’t faced Montreal since the third game of the season, a 4-1 Canadiens win at Verizon Center on Jan. 24. Washington was just trying to find its way under a new coach and system and coming out of an abbreviated training camp. The Caps are a much better team now; they’re 18-9-1 in their last 28 games after slogging through a 2-8-1 start.
Montreal has been playing well all season. Last in the Eastern Conference standings last season, the Habs are harder to play against now and they’re just three points off the pace being set by Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh this season. The Candiens come into tonight’s game with five wins in their last six games.
“These guys are playing some real good hockey,” says Brouwer. “They’ve beat some real good hockey teams and we’re excited to test ourselves tonight against them. We’ve been playing really good as of late, getting points, getting wins and putting ourselves in a good playoff position. Now, we’ve got to put that to the test.”
Washington enters the game with a two-point lead over Winnipeg in the Southeast Division standings. The Jets host Buffalo tonight. The Caps have a game in hand on the Jets, and they know that if they can beat Montreal it won’t matter what the Jets do tonight. The Caps also know that beating the Habs in their own barn is a taller task than in recent seasons.
“They’ve played well all season,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks of the Habs. “They’ve definitely proven that they are a great team. This is one of those steppingstones that we’ve got to cross going into our playoff hunt.
“We look forward to playing these guys. We didn’t give them our best game by far the last go-round. This is a big test for us, Montreal in their home rink and they’re playing well. We’re going to have our hands full.”Posted in: Sports
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