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Caps at Canadiens: Washington returns to action without Ovechkin

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Caps at Canadiens: Washington returns to action without Ovechkin

With the bye week and the NHL all-star break now over, it is back to business for the Capitals (33-11-5) who return to take on the Montreal Canadiens (22-21-7) on the road in Montreal. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for all of the action. Pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Caps FaceOff followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. which will take you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here is what you need to know for Monday’s game.

In case you forgot

The Caps have not played since Jan. 18 so in case you need a refresher, Washington entered the bye week on a three-game winning streak. The final game before the break was an incredible come-from-behind win over the New York Islanders in which Washington erased a 4-1 deficit in the third period to win 6-4 in regulation. The team now returns from the bye still with the top record in the NHL with 71 points.

Washington currently boasts a one-point lead (with two games in hand) over the Boston Bruins for first in the conference and a four-point lead (with one game in hand) over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

No Ovechkin

For the first time this season, the Caps will be without Alex Ovechkin who is serving a one-game suspension for his decision not to attend the All-Star Game. That is about the only thing that can slow him down at this point as he scored eight goals in three games heading into the bye week.

Here is what the lines looked like without Ovechkin at the morning skate, per Samantha Pell:

Richard Panik - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Travis Boyd
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

Holtby in net

Braden Holtby, fresh off his appearance in the All-Star Game, will start in the first game back from the break. Heading into the bye week, Ilya Samsonov started two out of three games and came on in relief for Holtby in the only game in which he did not start. Holtby, however, remains the No. 1 for now as Todd Reirden continues to handle his rookie netminder with kid gloves.

Down the final stretch of the season, it is likely we see more of a split between the two netminders than we saw through the first 49 games (Holtby started 33 of those 49 games), but it remains unlikely Samsonov begins shouldering a bulk of the load barring any injury or a complete collapse by Holtby.

When last we met

Monday's game will be the second of three meetings against Montreal this season. These two teams last met on Nov. 15, a game in which the Canadiens won 5-2 to snap Washington's 13-game point streak. 

In a 0-0 game, Ovechkin smoked forward Jonathan Drouin with a huge hit that seemed to wake up Montreal which scored about two minutes later and would go on to score the first four goals of the game.

Here's a recap of that loss.

The power play is...still bad

The bye week was nice in that it gave everyone a break from having to think about how bad the power play has been. Now, however, it is back to reality.

Since Dec. 1, Washington's power play ranks 30th in the NHL at 14.1-percent. That is something the team needs to turn around quickly.

The Price is right

Carey Price is one of the best goalies in the world, but he has not looked like it all too often this season with a .908 save percentage. Having said that, he has been lights out in 2020 with a .935 save percentage since Jan. 1.

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The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

ARLINGTON, Va. --  While the Capitals were on the road, Brian MacLellan was hard at work and finalized a deal on Tuesday to bring San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington. On Wednesday he met with the media to talk about the newest Cap.

"He's got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy," MacLellan said. "I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."

Here are the six most important things MacLellan said about Dillon.

Dillon may be a top-pair player

Dillon is certainly a top-four defenseman, but the Caps added a player they feel can play on the top pair.

"I think we move him around a little bit," MacLellan said. "He could play with [John Carlson], could play with [Dmitry Orlov]. He's played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him at both spots and see what works best for us."

Todd Reirden echoed those thoughts after practice.

When asked if Dillon playing with Brent Burns made him a natural fit to play with Carlson on the top pair, Reirden said, "That's my first initial thought. That is a similar type of player for sure."

Either Kempny or Jensen is going to get bumped out of the top four

When you re-read MacLellan's comments on Dillon playing in the top four, he said he could play with either Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. Adding a player into the top four means taking someone out and, based on those comments, that player is either going to be Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen.

Dillon is not the solution for the team's problems on the right

Right defense has been an issue for the Caps this season, but it does not sound like the plan is to plug Dillon in on the right side.

MacLellan was asked if Dillon could play on his off-side and he gave a tepid endorsement.

"He could, yeah," MacLellan said. "I think he's played a little bit on the off-side, but Orly's had some experience playing on the off-side. There's a number of different combinations we could try."

Reirden was asked who would play the right if Dillon and Orlov played together, and he said it would be Orlov.

While both MacLellan and Reirden said it would be an option to try Dillon on the right, it did not sound like that was the long-term plan at all.

This was not a reaction trade

Washington has lost four of its last five games and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23. The team suddenly no longer sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division and trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by a point in the standings. The Caps' recent struggles, however, did not influence this deal, at least according to MacLellan.

MacLellan stated twice that he would have made this deal "regardless because I think it's a great fit for us — I think his skillset and the group we do have. I think one of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here. I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

It should be noted that MacLellan has previously stated he was only looking for depth at the trade deadline and now has acquired a player who may well end up playing on the team's top pair. If you take him at his word, however, MacLellan liked Dillon and liked the upgrade, and that's why this deal got done — not because of the team's current struggles.

Dillon's playoff experience is a major reason why he is now with Washington

Last season, MacLellan traded for a defenseman playing a significant role on a bad team in Nick Jensen. Jensen had zero playoff experience and that showed in the team's postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, MacLellan elected to go a different route.

Dillon has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019.

MacLellan was asked how much that experience mattered to him, and he said, "A lot. A lot. I think he’s been in the final. He’s been on good teams, similar to us. I think San Jose and Washington had top teams for a long time and he’s been in that environment, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Physical play is still a major part of the team's identity

Dillon is not the type of player you go out an acquire if physicality is not a priority.

For the season, Dillon ranks ninth in the NHL with 178 hits. His acquisition means the Caps now have five of the top 21 hitters in the league.

"I think we're all attracted to size as long as it can play," MacLellan said. "We like having the big bodies and playing a heavier game, and he's a good skater for his size, too. He has that physical presence, and we're excited to see how it fits for us."

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Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Now's your chance to score some free Chipotle, Caps fans!

By wearing your favorite Capitals jersey on Friday, you can earn a free entree through Chipotle's "suit up and score" campaign with the purchase of another entree of equal or lesser value.

While all jerseys qualify for the promotion, we recommend Alex Ovechkin's as he goes for goal No. 700.

So rock your red, grab a friend and head to Chipotle for this awesome deal redeemable Friday, Feb. 21 only.

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