January 30, 2015

One might think the Montreal Canadiens would feel the absence of Carey Price a bit more with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals coming to town.

The thing is the Canadiens haven't played very well against the Capitals on home ice even with their star goaltender between the pipes.

Washington has won nine of its previous 11 visits to the Bell Centre and rides a five-game overall win streak into the season's first meeting Thursday night.

Price will miss at least six weeks with a knee injury, leaving Michael Condon and Dustin Tokarski in goal until mid-January at the earliest. While Montreal (19-4-3) holds the NHL's largest division lead, things could tighten up in a hurry with Price out.

Having the Vezina Trophy winner in net, however, hasn't really mattered at home against the Caps, who are 9-0-2 in Montreal since the start of 2009-2010 and have handed Price a 2-6-2 record and a 3.39 goals-against average in that span.

Ovechkin in particular has played well during Washington's run of dominance in the City of Saints, netting eight goals with six assists for a plus-9 rating in his last 10 games there after scoring twice in a 5-4 shootout win April 2.

Nicklas Backstrom has 10 points over his last eight in Montreal, and now that he's been reunited with Ovechkin on the top line, Washington (17-5-1) has begun to surge. Backstrom was eased into things after undergoing offseason hip surgery, but since coach Barry Trotz moved him back alongside Ovechkin in mid-November, the Capitals have won six of seven.

"We know they have some weapons," P.K. Subban told the Canadiens' official website. "It's definitely going to be our toughest challenge of the season, in my opinion. With them coming into our barn, we've definitely got to be prepared to play our best game."

While it's no easy task replacing Price, who was 10-2-0 with a 2.06 GAA, Condon has played well with a 2-0-1 record and 1.92 GAA in three games since Price was sidelined for a second time.

He made 22 saves and Paul Byron and Max Pacioretty scored in a 2-1 win over Columbus on Tuesday that improved the league-best Canadiens to 3-2-1 in their last six at home.

The win also showed that Montreal is unlikely to wither while waiting on Price. After Nick Foligno sent winger Andrew Fleischmann into the boards on a knee-to-knee hit with the game tied at 1 in the second period, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu hit Foligno and dropped the gloves, though he was shaken up by a hard punch from the Blue Jackets captain.

"Beaulieu is a great teammate," said Pacioretty, who scored the winner in the third on the power play. "That earns a lot of respect in the room."

The Canadiens will need that united front to start turning it around at home against the Capitals, who have had four days of rest and will be trying to win six in a row for the first time since an eight-game run in April 2013.

Washington pushed its goal total to 13 in its last three games with a 4-2 win at Toronto on Saturday. Braden Holtby stopped 32 shots to win his seventh straight start - a span in which he has a 1.85 GAA.

"We're trying not to get too complacent with what we're doing," Holtby told the Capitals' official website. "We don't think our game is quite where we want it yet, but we're finding ways to win, which is a good sign."

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