The Capitals enter Tuesday’s game as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, atop the Southeast Division with 42 points – two ahead of the Winnipeg Jets with a game in hand – having won eight of their past 10 contests.
But even with the recent success the Capitals know they have struggled against the top teams in the conference this year. Of Washington’s 20 wins this season only three have come against teams currently in a playoff position, and none of those victories came in regulation.
With six of the final nine games of the regular season against opponents in a playoff position — beginning with Tuesday’s matchup at the Canadiens, who sit second in the East, — Washington is eager to see how its recently improved play stacks up against some of the East’s more formidable foes.
“It’s the ultimate measuring stick, the ultimate way to tell how good we are. It’s great to beat the teams that are around us in the standings,” Karl Alzner said. “But it would be a confidence booster for us to win a game that maybe people don’t expect us to win. It’s a game you really want to have. You don’t want to keep losing to teams that are at the top because eventually you’re going to have to face a few of them if you imagine winning the Cup.”
In addition to assessing their own progress at this point in the season, the Capitals know they need to keep picking up points to ensure that Winnipeg cannot overtake them for the Southeast Division lead.
While Washington must face postseason bound teams six out of nine times the Jets face just three teams – the Islanders, Capitals and Canadiens – currently in a playoff position in their last eight games of the regular season.
“Every point is important to us; we want to be on top of the Southeast heading into playoffs,” said Mathieu Perreault, who has six points (4 goals, 2 assists) in eight career appearances against his hometown team. “This will be a good test for us, these are the teams you have to beat if you want to have success in the playoffs.”
A few roster notes on the Canadiens, who will go with Carey Price (19-7-4, 2.26 GAA, .916 save percentage) in net against the Capitals:
Rene Bourque will return to Montreal’s lineup tonight against the Capitals after missing 21 games with a concussion. As I’m sure no one needs reminding, it was Bourque who elbowed Nicklas Backstrom in the head last season and caused Washington’s top center to miss 40 games with a concussion.
The Canadiens had to do some defensive shuffling of their own recently now that defenseman Alexei Emelin is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL in his left knee. With Emelin out, Davis Drewiske, who was a depth pick up prior to the trade deadline from Los Angeles, will take on a top-four role and prospect Nathan Beaulieu, who was recalled from the AHL Sunday, will see time on the third pairing.