WASHINGTON – When the Capitals take the ice at Montreal’s Bell Centre tonight, they will do so minus No.1 defenseman Mike Green and No.1 center Nicklas Backstrom.
Green has missed all but ten games this season, and 54 of 64 regular-season games dating back to Feb. 26, 2011. The two-time Norris Trophy nominee underwent abdominal surgery in St. Louis yesterday and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks.
Backstrom has not played since Jan. 3 when he took an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flame Rene Bourque. The Capitals leading scorer is out with a concussion and will miss his seventh straight game tonight. He has not skated since Jan. 6 and there is no timetable for his return.
Bourque received a five-game suspension for his elbow on Backstrom and the Capitals were none too pleased with what they called a “cheap shot” from the final minutes of a 3-1 Caps win.
“He’s got a little bit of an edge to him,” Troy Brouwer said of Bourque after their Jan. 3 meeting. “Sometimes he crosses the line.
“It’s one of those things where it kind of sucks because we’re not going to play [him] again this year,” Brouwer said.
That all changed last Thursday when Bourque was acquired by the Canadiens in the trade that sent Mike Cammelleri to Calgary. Now the Capitals will face Bourque, who has since apologized for the elbow, four more times this season.
“Usually an apology is never enough — at least that’s what it seems like,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “But there hasn’t been much talk about [retribution], at least not that I’ve heard, so I don’t really know what’s going on. We just have to play them hard and I think the best way to get back at somebody is just by hitting them, by outplaying them and by trying to score as many goals as you can. That’s my personal philosophy — but not everybody’s.”
HOMECOMING FOR HAMMER
Tonight’s game in Montreal also marks the Bell Centre return for defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who spent four years with the Canadiens before signing a two-year deal with the Caps in the offseason.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Hamrlik said of his Montreal return. “It’s just another game, but I’m excited to go back. I played there for four years and it was probably [some] of my best four years, so I’m looking forward to it.
“I still have lots of friends there, I have such good memories from Montreal, but it’s just another game and hopefully we can start winning on the road and [win] some big points. It’s not easy to bring points from the road – especially Montreal, it’s 22,000 people and I know they’re going to come hard, they have lots of speed up front.”
Hamrlik has a goal and five points in 40 games this season. He also leads the Caps with 84 blocked shots and has been paired primarily with all-star defenseman Dennis Wideman. Hamrlik began the year playing with Mike Green and has recently skated alongside rookie Tomas Kundratek.
In October, the 37 year old appeared in career game No. 1,315, passing countryman Bobby Holik for the most NHL games played by an Eastern European.
Hamrlik has now played 1,351 career games and recently passed former Canadiens captain Kirk Muller into 42nd place among the NHL’s all-time games played leaders.
ROAD WOES FOR CAPS
The Capitals are in desperate need of a reversal of fortune on the road as tonight’s game in Montreal kicks off a three-game trip.
While the Capitals’ 17-6-1 record at home is tops in the Eastern Conference, Washington is also tied for last in the conference with Tampa Bay and Carolina with 15 points on the road.
“I’d like to think it’s just a lull,” Caps forward Mike Knuble said of the Capitals road struggles. “We all know how to win on the road. It’s not a comfort thing — it’s not being a homer type team or anything like that. We’ve got guys in our locker room that have won a lot of games on the road in the past.
“It’s just about kind of getting the right feel going, the right thoughts and playing a boring road game. I mean, we’ve played boring home games, so we need to play some boring road games and do the same thing on the road.”
The Caps have lost five-of-six on the road with six of their next seven games being played outside the U.S. capital.
Head coach Dale Hunter can’t explain the huge discrepancy in his team’s play at home versus on the road, but he points to the special teams play as one explanation.
Consider that at home this season, the Caps’ power play ranks 2nd in the NHL clicking at 24 percent while on the road, the Caps PP ranks 23rd at 13.6 percent.
Washington’s penalty killing meanwhile ranks 6th at home at 86.8 percent and 27th on the road at 76.0 percent.
THIS & THAT
The Capitals are 12-9-1 under head coach Dale Hunter; Bruce Boudreau had the same record when he was fired Nov. 28