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With or without Carey Price, Capitals not taking Montreal lightly

Karl Alzner and the Capitals get a break when avoiding last season’s Hart Trophy award winner Carey Price of Montreal. (Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

Is defenseman Karl Alzner at all disappointed that goaltender Carey Price, last season’s MVP, won’t be in net against the Washington Capitals when they play in Montreal on Thursday night?

“No,” Alzner said. “Not at all.”

Price is out for the next six weeks with a lower-body injury, so the Washington Capitals will face goaltender Mike Condon, who has performed admirably in Price’s place, compiling a 9-2-3 record, a 2.11 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

Although Price missed nine games before this most recent diagnosis that will likely sideline him through the calendar year, the Canadiens have continued to roll as the NHL’s point leader with 41. So Washington won’t be taking Montreal lightly no matter who’s in goal.

“I’m happy he’s not in net,” Alzner said. “But I get what you’re saying; it would be nice to see the full team. At this point, every team that’s in front of us, we have a certain way that we need to play, and we don’t have to worry about personnel.”

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Alzner admitted that’s a change from this point last season, when Washington had won just 10 of its first 24 games while adjusting to new Coach Barry Trotz. In the Capitals’ second year with Trotz, they have gotten off to a stronger start, jockeying with the New York Rangers atop the Metropolitan Division. (The Rangers have 36 points to Washington’s 35 through Tuesday night).

“At this point, I think we’re just very comfortable playing our systems,” Alzner said. “We’re very comfortable playing with each other. We had a good team and a good group of guys and everything last year, but I think with another year together, everyone seems even closer. That’s, I think, the big reason for that.

“We have a level of confidence that I think keeps us from being worried about teams. Even though we do our pre-scouts and look at what the other team is going to do, I think we feel like it’s up to us. If we play the right way and we play our game and all the things we do are right, it’s going to be good for us.”

Alzner said Montreal is a “benchmark” team for the Capitals. While Washington has won 17 of its first 23 games, it’s beaten the teams it’s supposed to beat, but against top competition, the Capitals have fallen short. They’ve had losses against the Rangers, Penguins and Dallas Stars.

Alzner praised Montreal’s balance, an even lineup that doesn’t have a goal-scorer like Alex Ovechkin but is strong from its first line to its fourth. Trotz said he’s not surprised it’s a team that’s continued to win without arguably the league’s best goaltender.

“You can’t think that just because Carey Price isn’t in the net, that it’s going to be easy to score against them because they find ways to make it tough,” Alzner said.

“They’ve had the best record,” Trotz said. “Obviously, Carey Price is a big formula for them, but we can’t control that. They’re still a good hockey team and they’ve been winning hockey games.”