The Canadiens have not scored a goal against the Washington Capitals in nearly a year. After three straight shutouts, they’ll try to reverse that on Friday night down in Washington, when they play the Caps at the Verizon Center.
The Habs last goal scored vs. the Caps came on March 15, 2011 — beware the Ides of March — when Andrei Kostitsyn scored early in the second period of the Habs 4-2 loss in Washington (video). Since then, they’ve gone over 216 minutes without a goal against the Caps, being blanked three times, all at the Bell Centre, twice this season.
This could be a good time for the Habs to play the Caps, a team that had high expectations for the season that could be on the verge of imploding. They’ve lost three straight, five of six (or six of seven, if you consider a shootout loss to be a loss) and in the past 17 games, have only grabbed 12 of a possible 34 points.
Washington has slipped in the standings out of playoff position and there seems to be some ill feelings around the club. Coach Dale Hunter threw goalie Tomas Vokoun under the bus after the Caps’ performance against the Senators on Wednesday, saying his club played a good road game — a dubious claim to anyone else who watched the game — but didn’t get the saves.
While Vokoun wasn’t outwardly upset and didn’t pout in practice, Hunter’s statement still prompted a rebuke from Vokoun’s agent, Alan Walsh, who told the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera in part, “Hockey’s great coaches throughout history never resorted to publicly singling out a particular player, blaming him for a loss. Where I come from, you win as a team and lose as a team. The oldest, most tired excuse in the book is to blame the goalie.”
Backup goalie Michal Neuvirth, who came in after Vokoun surrendered four goals on 11 shots, also defended his partner.
Hunter also made ex-Hab Roman Hamrlik a healthy scratch against the Senators but, as Carrera reported, didn’t tell him why. When told by reporters Hunter’s reasoning was that Hamrlik had taken some bad penalties in recent games, including one that led to a goal last week against Carolina, Hamrlik replied, “You should ask him about the penalties because when he played, I think he make lots of penalties himself. He should know better. This is the game, guys go on emotion time. I know I take bad penalty, but if it’s the reason I didn’t play that’s his decision.”
The 37-year-old defenceman added, “It’s not fun time, you know, especially when you’re older, you want to enjoy; you want to have fun,” Hamrlik said. “But it’s difficult time to play hockey when you know, you go to the game if you’re gonna make mistake [then] you’re not gonna play. It’s not easy. It’s real difficult on your body and your mind.”
Renaud Lavoie of RDS reported last week that the Caps were shopping Hamrlik.
Owner Ted Leonsis, who is never reluctant to share his views in public, characteristically got into the act on Monday on his blog after the 5-0 loss to Carolina, calling it “the worst game of the season” and “an unexceptable performance.” On his blog Thursday, Leonsis called the game against the Habs “a very important game for us.”
It’s unclear whether Alex Ovechkin, who is playing far beneath his best in any case, will be in the lineup Frday. In fact, it seems doubtful. He was seen limping after the game against Carolina on Monday. He didn’t skate Tuesday, skated very little before the Sens game on Wednesday and didn’t play in Ottawa, and, as Carrera reported, only skated briefly on Thursday, with difficulty and not at full speed.
Even with Ovie in the lineup, not much has gone right for Washington since his centre Nick Backstrom was concussed by Rene Bourque’s elbow in a Caps-Flames game before Bourque’s trade to the Habs. Backstrom remains out indefinitely and GM George McPhee searching for a short-term fix in the middle.
They’ve recently gotten defenceman Mike Green back from his extended injury layoff, but he’s looked rusty in his three games, and was minus-3 against Carolina.
The Caps power play has not clicked lately. They managed a PP goal vs. the Sens, but including that game they are on a 2-for-21 pace in recent games. In the 23 contests since Backstrom went out of the lineup, they are 9 for 64, around 14 percent. Their penalty kill languishes near the bottom of the league, at 80.1 percent, 25th. But they are mid-pack at home, slightly better at 83 percent.
Assuming Ovechkin is out of the lineup and Hamrlik is in, here’s how the makeshift Caps might look on Friday, but don’t hold me to it.
Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer
Matt Hendricks, Mathieu Perreault, Alexander Semin
Jason Chimera , Marcus Johansson, Keith Aucoin
Mike Beagle, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward
John Carlson, Karl Alzner
Roman Hamrlik, Dennis Wideman
Mike Green, Jeff Schultz