Capitals Face Tough Situation in Montreal

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 5, 2008

MONTREAL, Jan. 4 -- The Washington Capitals had some difficulty getting to Montreal yesterday after a mechanical problem with the team's plane delayed their arrival by nearly four hours and forced them to cancel practice.

Things might not improve much Saturday afternoon at Bell Center, where they're set to face off, possibly without several key players, against Alexei Kovalev and the streaking Montreal Canadiens.

Brian Pothier joined the growing list of wounded Capitals on Thursday after rugged Boston winger Milan Lucic drove his shoulder into the side of the defenseman's head early in the second period of the 2-0 Bruins victory. He did not return for the third period and is listed as day-to-day because of an upper-body injury.

Pothier ranks sixth on the team in points (14) and average ice time (18:41), and could be sidelined along with defenseman Tom Poti (upper body) and winger Alexander Semin (tailbone injury).

"Nothing is etched in stone, but if we were on a teeter-totter, I would be teetering toward not," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Pothier's status. "Semin is not [in Montreal], and Poti is 99-point-six-and-a-half [percent] that he's not going to play.

"But I don't care who is in the lineup. We just got to play better. We need to win."

Thursday's loss cooled the Capitals' recent run, during which they throttled the Eastern Conference-leading Senators twice and gained at least one point in the standings in five straight games.

That figures to be a tough task, though, should they be without their No. 1 and No. 4 defensemen (Poti and Pothier, respectively) as well as their second-most dangerous offensive threat (Semin) behind Alex Ovechkin, who will be looking to avoid going three games without scoring a goal for the first time all season.

Montreal, which is 3-0-1 in its past four games, has gained at least a point in nine of its past 11 behind Kovalev and the league's best power play (24.2 percent effectiveness rate). Kovalev has scored 10 of his 17 goals with the man advantage.

If Pothier cannot play, Boudreau said he will turn to seldom-used defenseman Steve Eminger, a former first-round draft pick who has played only two games all season, and none since Nov. 26.

"This is an opportunity for a guy who hasn't played a lot to play the greatest game of his life," Boudreau said. "So all of a sudden the powers that be say, 'We got to play him.' "

Boudreau also said he hopes the boisterous atmosphere in this hockey-mad city will provide his team with the boost it needs to overcome the injuries and put the deflating loss to the Bruins behind them. Washington is 3-0 in Canada this season after wins in Toronto and Ottawa (twice), outscoring their Canadian counterparts by a combined 19-8.

"This is hallowed ground when it comes to hockey," Boudreau said. "If you can't get yourself up to have a great game in Montreal, then I don't know if you should be a hockey player."

Capitals Notes: Right wing Chris Clark (strained groin muscle) and backup goaltender Brent Johnson (sprained left knee) did not make the trip. Goaltender Olie Kolzig is expected to start.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company