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NHL Predictions: Washington Capitals at Montreal Canadiens

NHL predictions

Today’s NHL Predictions feature two teams near the bottom of their divisions in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Capitals (23-21-8, 7th Metropolitan Division) will face the Montreal Canadiens (22-24-8, 6th Atlantic Division) for the second time this month.

The Canadiens have won the first two matchups this season. In the second week of the season, Washington fell 3-2 in overtime after Dylan Strome tied the game with two goals in the third period. More recently, the Capitals lost 5-2 in their first game back from the All-Star break, on February 6th. Washington is 1-3-1 since returning from the break. Let’s break down the Caps versus Habs in today’s NHL predictions.

NHL Predictions: Capitals at Canadiens

Since then, the Capitals have faced some of the top teams in the NHL–the Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, and Colorado Avalanche. Washington has earned only 3 standings points in those four games and has been outscored 13-10. The Capitals played some of their best hockey of the season against Boston and Vancouver. They shut out the Bruins 3-0, then went to overtime less than 24 hours later against the Canucks. However, they couldn’t keep the consistency rolling for a third consecutive game. Less than five minutes into their meeting with the Avalanche, they were behind 2-0. Though they tied the score before the first intermission, two empty-net goals thwarted their comeback attempt at the end of the game.

The Canadiens are in theory a less formidable opponent than the Capitals are used to seeing. Montreal is 1-3 since beating Washington last week. Twice this week, the Canadiens gave up seven goals. Here are the keys for Washington to collect two points in Quebec.

Three Keys to a Washington Win

Be Ready to Play

All season long, the Capitals have struggled in the first period of games. Washington has been outscored 53-39 in the first period and allowed the first goal 31 times. They allowed the first three goals, all in the first period, in last week’s meeting between these two teams, and couldn’t generate enough offence in the final 40 minutes to overcome the deficit. The Capitals have only earned points in two games this month, and they scored first both times.

The Capitals also haven’t played since Tuesday. Washington hasn’t done well with two or more days between games. They are tied for the second-worst points average in games after three days of rest, according to data tracked by More Hockey Stats. Only San Jose wins fewer games after three days off.

Be Aware of the Ice

In Tuesday’s game against the Avalanche, the Capitals had multiple lapses of situational awareness that hurt them on the scoresheet. Colorado took a three-on-one rush on the game’s first shift. Though that first attempt didn’t get past Charlie Lindgren, the Avalanche’s first goal came on a similar play. After a shot went wide of the net for Washington, Ross Colton got the jump on his backchecker through the neutral zone. Once Miles Wood got around John Carlson, Colton was a full stick-length ahead of Aliaksei Protas and received the puck in full stride.

In the second period, Colorado scored twice thanks to missed coverage by Washington. With the score tied 2-2, Artturi Lehkonen looped through the high slot and didn’t get picked up as he drove to the left circle. By the time Ethan Bear turned around to challenge Lehkonen, the puck was on its way over Lindgren’s glove. Later, the Avalanche had a power play and drew all four Capitals to one side. Lehkonen and Nathan MacKinnon relayed the puck across to the right circle, where Mikko Rantanen was waiting to take a one-timer.

Keep the Puck Moving

It will be important for the Capitals to keep the puck in play as much as possible. Montreal is among the top-10 in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage: 52.5 percent. It’s one of the few strong points Montreal has in its game. The Canadiens have eight forwards who have won 50% or more of their draws. Six of those forwards have taken more than 100 faceoffs; of those six, only one has a winning percentage below 52. Washington in in the bottom third of the league in faceoff effectiveness. Only two skaters currently active for the Capitals have a faceoff win percentage above 50. Dylan Strome has taken the most faceoffs of any Washington player and has won 52.5 percent. Max Pacioretty, who has only skated in 17 games and taken a total of four faceoffs, has won 75 percent of them.

Prediction Time

These two teams are only two points apart in the standings and will potentially be battling for the same wild card berth in the playoffs. The Capitals showed some progress towards improving their first-period play last weekend, only revert to their habitual bad starts in their most recent game. Tonight’s opponent isn’t as intimidating as their past few foes, so that might give the Capitals more confidence to start the game.

Prediction: Washington wins 3-2.

Main photo by: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports


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