The Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals own a one-point lead over the Boston Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy as they return from a nine-day break to face the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday night.
The Capitals, who went into their bye week and the All-Star Game break on a three-game win streak, will be without Alex Ovechkin for the contest. Ovechkin must serve a mandatory one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game in St. Louis to rest up for the second half of the season.
Ovechkin was red-hot before the break, scoring eight goals over a three-game span, including back-to-back hat tricks in a 5-2 win over New Jersey and a dramatic 6-4 come-from-behind victory at the New York Islanders on Jan. 18 in their final game before the layoff.
Washington trailed 4-1 after two periods against the Islanders before exploding for five third-period goals, with Ovechkin scoring two of them — including an empty-netter to seal the win.
Ovechkin is tied with Toronto’s Auston Matthews for second place in the NHL in goals with 34, three behind Boston’s David Pastrnak (37). His last goal was the 692nd of his career, tying Steve Yzerman for ninth place on the NHL’s career goals list.
“It’s something special,” Ovechkin said. “It’s history. It’s pretty cool.
“I just left out there everything I had because I have a week off. Now it’s time to regroup and get ready for the second half of the year.”
Montreal also will be playing its first game in nine days and brings in a two-game winning streak. The Canadiens entered the break off a 5-4 shootout victory over the Vegas Golden Knights with leading scorer Tomas Tatar (17 goals, 26 assists) scoring the winner in the fourth round of the shootout.
Montreal is tied for fifth place in the Atlantic Division with the Buffalo Sabres with 51 points, 10 points behind third-place Florida and also 10 points behind Carolina for the second wild-card spot.
“A little reset here for the mental side of things and also the physical side of things, and now it’s time to hunt,” center Max Domi told NHL.com. “We believe in each other as a group, and we want to win some hockey games. We proved it time and time again and we know we can do it. We’ve just got to find ways put the right foot forward here.”
One Canadien who didn’t get the whole eight days off was All-Star defenseman Shea Weber, who won the hardest shot competition on Friday night with a blast registered at 106.5 mph. Washington defenseman John Carlson was second at 104.5 mph.
“Obviously, the fun’s kind of over with,” Weber said. “It’s time to get back to work in Montreal.”
This is the second of three meetings between the two teams. Montreal, behind a goal and three assists by Tatar and 26 saves by goaltender Carey Price, won the first one, 5-2, in Washington on Nov. 15.
The Capitals enter Monday night’s game with a 18-6-1 road record, best in the NHL. No other team has won more than 14 games away from home.