The Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens, both teetering on the edge of playoff contention, are gearing up for a crucial clash in Washington on Tuesday. Despite a promising start to the season, the Capitals find themselves five points adrift of a playoff spot with 35 games remaining. The team, currently winless in their last four games, suffered a disheartening 5-4 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars just before the All-Star break, leaving them in a precarious position.
The Capitals, initially a surprise package early in the season, won 12 of their first 20 games and maintained a solid standing in the Metropolitan Division’s top three for a significant stretch. However, the recent slump has heightened the urgency for a turnaround. Captain Alex Ovechkin expressed optimism, noting the team’s refreshed spirits post-All-Star break. Despite this, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, a key contributor with six goals and 17 points in 43 games, was absent from Monday’s practice, entering the NHL player assistance program. In response, the Capitals called up Michael Sgarbossa from the AHL to join the forward line alongside Anthony Mantha and Aliaksei Protas.
Coach Spencer Carbery acknowledged the team’s slim margin for error but conveyed confidence in their fighting spirit. The Capitals are well aware that they need to give their all to stay in playoff contention.
The Canadiens, facing an even steeper climb, sit 10 points outside of a playoff position with 33 games remaining. Their recent 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where they squandered leads twice, only added to their woes. During the All-Star break, the Canadiens made a significant trade, sending third-line center Sean Monahan to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2024 first-round draft pick and a conditional 2027 third-round pick.
Defenseman Mike Matheson acknowledged the realities of the business and emphasized the need to quickly move on from such changes. Montreal is also dealing with the absence of center Brendan Gallagher, serving a five-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech. In response, the Canadiens signed forward Brandon Gignac from the minor-league team, and he is set to make his first NHL appearance in nearly 1,800 days.
Gignac, determined and resilient, spoke about his mindset, emphasizing his commitment to overcoming challenges. With 14 goals and 42 points in 43 AHL games this season, Gignac brings a level of tenacity to the Canadiens’ lineup. The team is counting on his contributions alongside Josh Anderson and Lucas Condotta, both recalled from the AHL Laval Rocket, to boost their chances in the crucial upcoming games. As both teams recognize the pivotal nature of this juncture in the season, they are under pressure to secure vital wins and make a push for playoff contention.