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Canadiens Game Day: Habs' season started to fall apart in Washington

Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov makes a save on shot from the Canadiens' Jordan Weal during NHL game at Capital One Arena in Washington on Nov. 15, 2019. The Canadiens won the game 5-2.
Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov makes a save on shot from the Canadiens' Jordan Weal during NHL game at Capital One Arena in Washington on Nov. 15, 2019. The Canadiens won the game 5-2.

WASHINGTON — The Canadiens might have played their best game of the season the last time they faced the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

It was Nov. 15 and the Canadiens dominated the Capitals, winning the game 5-2 and outshooting Washington 40-28. The bad news was that Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron were both injured in that game and they would both miss the next three months of the season. Drouin had wrist surgery on Nov. 18 and Byron had knee surgery the next day.

The Nov. 15 win was the third straight for the Canadiens and improved their record to 11-5-3. They had gone 11-22-5 since then heading into Thursday night’s game at Capital One Arena against the Capitals (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

“We were a team that was built on depth and we felt we had good depth and we were heading in the right direction,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said after Thursday’s morning skate when asked about the game on Nov. 15. “Sometimes some teams can overcome those kind of things because they got those superstar players. I think we’re all on the same page here in saying I don’t think I have (Sidney) Crosby or (Connor) McDavid on my team. So it’s hard to have somebody carry your team. At that stage, that’s what happened and then it just got worse.

“You lose (Brendan) Gallagher for a month, we lost other guys on top of those two guys for three months,” Julien added. “It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact, and it was a challenge. So that’s where we’re at right now.”

With a 27-27-8 record, the Canadiens headed into Thursday night’s game in sixth place in the Atlantic Division, eight points behind Florida for the third and final playoff spot with the Panthers holding two games in hand. The Canadiens were 13th in the Eastern Conference, 10 points behind the New York Islanders for the second wild-card spot and the Islanders held three games in hand.

The website had the Canadiens’ chances of making the playoffs listed at 0.4 per cent and they are all but certain to miss the postseason for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years.

The Capitals headed into the game with a 37-17-5 record and were in second place in the Metropolitan Division. has the Capitals chances of making the playoffs for the sixth straight season and the 12th time in 13 years listed at 99.6 per cent.

This will be the third and final game between the Canadiens and Capitals this season. The Capitals beat the Canadiens 4-2 at the Bell Centre on Jan. 27. The Capitals have a 6-1-1 record in their last eight games against the Canadiens.

Price will start again for Habs

Carey Price will make his eighth straight start in goal Thursday night against the Capitals and his 14th in the last 15 games. It will be Price’s 52nd start this season, the most of any NHL goalie. The Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck ranks second with 48.

“You know, ideally we wish we weren’t in that position,” Julien said about Price’s workload. “I don’t think anybody was hoping to give him that kind of a workload. We got in a situation where we were fighting for a playoff spot. I don’t care what people think, I still think we need to fight for a playoff spot even though we know where the chances are.

“It’s a matter of dealing with him and his workload when it comes to practice and stuff like that,” the coach added. “We talked about that and we’ve really minimized practice time and there’s times we’ve brought in a third goaltender and we’re making sure that he’s getting his rest in the right areas and that’s more practice than game time. We can’t help the game time, but we can certainly help the practice time and you’ve seen he’s got days off and a lot of times we practise and whether he comes out for 15 minutes or whatever we’re really trying to manage it that way.”

Price has a 24-22-5 record with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

Braden Holtby will start in goal for the Capitals. He has a 21-13-4 record with a 3.11 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage.

Mete out with foot injury

Defenceman Victor Mete won’t be in the Canadiens’ lineup against the Capitals after taking a shot off the foot in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Red Wings in Detroit.

“He’s not playing tonight … doubtful for this week,” Julien said. “We’ll probably get more info once we get home. He had an X-ray in Detroit that was negative, but he’s in pain. I think we need to look into it a little further once we get home with our own doctors.”

Christian Folin, who was called up from the AHL’s Laval Rocket on Wednesday, will take Mete’s spot in the lineup.

Brendan Gallagher, who missed Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury, took part in Thursday’s morning skate and will be a game-time decision.

“He’s feeling better,” Julien said about Gallagher. “I think it’s more positive than not for tonight. We’ll probably take a game-time decision. He felt a lot better this morning than he felt two days ago, so I think a decision will be made there tonight before the game.”

The lines

Here’s how the Canadiens’ lines and defence pairings looked at Thursday’s morning skate:

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Armia
Lehkonen – Domi – Kovalchuk
Byron – Thompson – Cousins
Weise – Weal

Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Ouellet – Folin

Habs make minor trade

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made a minor-league trade Thursday, acquiring forwards Joseph Blandisi and Jacob Lucchini from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forwards Riley Barber and Phil Varone.

Blandisi and Lucchini will both report to the AHL’s Laval Rocket, which is where Barber and Varone were playing.

Blandisi, 25, played 21 games this season with the Penguins, posting 2-3-5 totals. In 26 games with Wilkes-Barre in the AHL, the 5-foot-11, 187-pounder had 6-8-14 totals. Lucchini, 24, played 53 games with Wilkes-Barre this season, posting 7-8-15 totals.

Barber had 13-18-31 totals in 39 games with the Rocket this season, while Varone had 4-10-14 totals in 27 games. Barber played nine games with the Canadiens this season and was held pointless.

Rocket coach Joël Bouchard made Barber and Varone healthy scratches for last Sunday’s 3-0 road loss to the Providence Bruins. Bouchard told reporters on Tuesday that the reason why they were scratched from the lineup would remain private and added that his mandate when he was hired two years ago by the Canadiens was to change the attitude in Laval.

“I’ll make the decision I think is needed,” Bouchard said. “I’m not scared of it. I don’t coach in fear. I do what’s right for the players and the team.”

Where the Canadiens rank

Heading into Thursday’s game, the Canadiens ranked 18th in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 2.95 goals per game, and ranked 17th in defence, allowing an average of 3.08. They ranked 17th on the power play (19.6 per cent), 20th in penalty-killing (79.1 per cent) and ninth in faceoffs (50.6 per cent).

Tomas Tatar was leading the Canadiens in scoring with 21-33-54 totals, followed by Nick Suzuki (13-27-40), Phillip Danault (12-28-40), Gallagher (19-18-37) and Max Domi (13-24-37).

Where the Capitals rank

The Capitals ranked fourth in the NHL in offence heading into the game, scoring an average of 3.47 goals per game, and 14th in defence, allowing an average of 3.02. They ranked 14th on the power play (20.7 per cent), fourth in penalty-killing (83.9 per cent) and 27th in faceoffs (48.4 per cent).

John Carlson was leading the Capitals in scoring with 15-55-70 totals, followed by Alex Ovechkin (40-17-57), Jakub Vrana (23-26-49), Evgeny Kuznetsov (19-27-46) and Nicklas Backstrom (11-34-45).

Dillon will make Capitals debut

Brenden Dillon, acquired from the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, will make his Capitals debut against the Canadiens skating beside John Carlson on the No. 1 defence pair.

The Capitals gave up a second-round pick at this year’s NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick next year in exchange for Dillon, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who had 1-13-14 totals and 83 penalty minutes in 59 games with the Sharks.

Dillon is a physical, stay-at-home defenceman and should be a good partner with Carlson, who leads all NHL defencemen in scoring with 15-55-70 totals, 13 points ahead of the Nashville Predators’ Roman Josi, who is second with 14-43-57 totals.

Rocket lose sixth straight

The Rocket suffered their sixth straight defeat Wednesday night, losing 5-4 to the Manitoba Moose in a shootout at Laval’s Place Bell.

The Rocket are now 0-5-1 in their last six games and are in seventh place in the North Division with a 23-23-8 record. The Rocket are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third straight season since the Canadiens moved their AHL farm team to Laval.

Cale Fleury, Jake Evans, Charles Hudon and Yannick Veilleux scored for the Rocket Wednesday night, while goalie Keith Kinkaid allowed four goals on 29 shots.

Evans leads the Rocket in scoring with 13-23-36 totals, followed by Hudon with 25-8-33. Kinkaid has a 3-7-3 record with a 3.44 goals-against average and an .876 save percentage with Laval.

What’s next?

The Canadiens will fly to Ottawa after Thursday night’s game and have a practice scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at the Canadian Tire Centre before facing the Senators Saturday night (7 p.m., SNE, SN1, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Next week, the NHL trade deadline is set for 3 p.m. on Monday before the Canadiens play three home games at the Bell Centre against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), the New York Rangers on Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).


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