Canadiens-Capitals Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 23, 2012
Facing the possibility of playing a second straight game without Alex Ovechkin and with their No. 1 goaltender struggling, a visit from the Montreal Canadiens may be just what the Washington Capitals need. The slumping Caps try to shut out the Canadiens for a fourth straight time Friday night at the Verizon Center. Washington (29-26-5) has gone 3-7-2 in its last 12 and is in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals stumbled home after dropping the last three games on their four-game road trip, capping the stretch with a 5-2 loss to Ottawa on Wednesday. Ovechkin missed the game with a lower-body injury and his status for Friday is uncertain. The absence of its leading scorer forced Washington to play without its top two offensive producers, as Nicklas Backstrom is still out due to a concussion. The Capitals got off to yet another slow start, falling behind 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes, and they've been outscored 9-0 in the first period of the last six games. Washington cut the deficit to 4-2 midway through the third period but couldn't overcome the poor start. "You can take things from it, but at the end of the day you need to have a better start, have a better effort and get two points," forward Troy Brouwer said. "That's all that matters right now. We've got to find a way to get points and start climbing the standings." Washington's goaltending has been shaky of late, with Tomas Vokoun getting pulled in each of the last two games. He allowed two goals on seven shots against Carolina on Monday and four goals on 11 shots against Ottawa. Coach Dale Hunter was disappointed with Vokoun on Wednesday, but he also wasn't pleased with the defense around him. "If someone's not playing well as they should, you need to block more shots and cover up for him," Hunter said. Despite Vokoun's troubles, he and Michael Neuvirth each posted a shutout in the two meetings with Montreal this season. The Capitals haven't given up a goal to the Canadiens since the 3:28 mark of the second period of a 4-2 Washington victory March 15, blanking Montreal three consecutive times since. They'll try to extend that streak against a Canadiens team that has lost four of five while totaling one goal in the last two games. Montreal lost 3-0 to Dallas on Tuesday. The Canadiens (24-27-10) have allowed the first goal in each of their last five games. They went 0 for 4 on the power play and are near the bottom of the NHL at 13.8 percent. "We were reluctant at times to shoot it," coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "That's what a power play has to do. We had plenty of opportunity, but we just couldn't pull it together to accomplish that." Montreal was without center Tomas Plekanec due to the flu Tuesday. His status for Friday is unclear. The Canadiens, opening a three-game trip, have won three straight away from home. However, with one of the worst records in the East, they know their time to make a move is dwindling. "If we could point to one or two things, we could fix it," center Lars Eller said. "But it's not one player, one thing or the power play - it's a lot of things. ... We play like this, we're not even close to winning."
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