It's not a spot predicted by many for the Montreal Canadiens or the Washington Capitals before the season, but here they are heading into their game at Bell Centre on Monday, fighting for the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference at the quarter point of the NHL season.
Not much was expected of the Canadiens after they finished 14th in the Eastern Conference last season, made drastic changes to their lineup and are missing top defenseman Shea Weber (offseason foot surgery) to start the season. With a record of 11-6-3 and coming off a Western Canada road trip in which they won four of six points, the Canadiens are one of the early pleasant surprises of the season.
The Washington Capitals, on the other hand, are coming off the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and have gotten off to a slow start under new head coach Todd Reirden, who replaced Barry Trotz, with a record of 9-7-3.
The Capitals are wrapping up a four-game road trip and are 2-1 in the first three games. The Capitals don't have good memories of their last visit to Montreal on Nov. 1. They were up 4-3 with four minutes to go in the game and lost in regulation.
The Capitals are without No. 1 goaltender Braden Holtby, who was injured Wednesday (upper body) while preparing to play the Winnipeg Jets that night. Holtby skated in Montreal on Sunday, but his status for Monday is not known. Pheonix Copley, the 26-year-old native of North Pole, AK, has stepped in and done a good job: He's given up two goals a game in each of his past four starts and is 3-1-0.
"Holtby was back on the ice today, which was good to see," Reirden told the team's website after the Capitals practiced Sunday. "So we'll continue to evaluate that, even later [Sunday] afternoon."
"It was good," Holtby told the team's official website. "Obviously it was nice to be back out on the ice and start feeling some shots and work some things out. It felt good."
Capitals key forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie were both injured against Winnipeg and missed Washington's 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. They are day-to-day with upper-body injuries.
The Canadiens lost the first game of their road trip in Edmonton to the Oilers and bounced back with wins against the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks.
After failing to score on the power play in their previous four games, the Canadiens got the winner with the man advantage from Jonathan Drouin. Goaltender Carey Price, after a rocky stretch in which he went 1-3-1 with a .854 save percentage and did not start the road trip in Edmonton, bounced back with 43 saves against Calgary and 35 against Vancouver.
"A big character win for us to come back," Price told NHL.com. "It's good to get a couple bounce-back games after Edmonton and make it a successful road trip."
"We all knew he hadn't been playing his best when we gave him that little bit of a break, but now he's back to being Carey, that's the difference," Canadiens head coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. "He's calm, he's making saves. Sometimes a little step backwards and time to refocus is not a bad thing. These goalies play under pressure every game."
Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar, who came to the team as part of one of those big trades that sent captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights, scored his sixth goal in his past six games Saturday against the Canucks.
Forward Max Domi, obtained from the Phoenix Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk, is riding a nine-game point streak in which he has 13 points (five goals, eight assists).