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HOCKEY

Sinking Capitals hope to get on track against Habs

The floundering Washington Capitals will try to avoid matching their longest losing streak of the season when they host the Montreal Canadiens tonight at the Verizon Center.

The Capitals have not done a great deal to help their playoff chances in recent weeks, losing three straight, six of seven and nine of their last 12 contests. Yet, despite its poor play of late, Washington is still just three points out of a playoff spot in the East and is also four behind Winnipeg for first place in the Southeast Division.

Washington did not have superstar Alex Ovechkin in its most recent loss, as the Russian forward sat out Wednesday's 5-2 setback in Ottawa with a lower- body injury. Ovechkin, who leads Washington with 24 goals and 45 points, skated on Thursday and Friday with a non-contact jersey and is questionable for tonight's contest.

The Caps fell behind 4-0 by the middle of the second period of Wednesday's game and were never able to get back in the contest. Washington fired 35 shots at Craig Anderson, but the Senators goaltender turned aside 33 of them.

John Carlson and Mathieu Perreault scored for the Capitals. Tomas Vokoun was removed after allowing four goals on 11 shots in 32-plus minutes. Michal Neuvirth finished up by stopping all 14 shots he faced.

"Tonight we played a good, solid road game and we lose," Capitals head coach Dale Hunter said. "Goaltending is a big part of the game and we need good goaltending."

Vokoun has been pulled each of his last two starts and surrendered six goals on 18 shots in those outings. Neuvirth could get the call in net tonight for his first start since Feb. 12.

Washington is 19-8-2 at home this year compared to a 10-18-3 record on the road. The Caps will visit Toronto tomorrow before returning to D.C. for a five-game homestand.

Montreal has lost two straight and four of its last five games and the Habs will need to pick up the pace if they have any chance of making the postseason. The Canadiens are currently five back of Washington in the East standings and are eight points out of a playoff spot.

The Canadiens were dealt a 3-0 loss by visiting Dallas on Tuesday. Kari Lehtonen made 31 saves to record the shutout for the Stars and former Montreal forward Mike Ribeiro burned his team with a goal.

Meanwhile, Carey Price took another hard-luck loss for the Habs after stopping 33-of-36 shots. Price is just 22-22-9 this season despite posting a solid 2.39 goals-against average and a sturdy .916 save percentage.

"It's late in the season, we're still searching for the right answers at the start of the games," Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth said.

Tonight's test marks the start of a three-game road trip for the Canadiens, who are 13-13-2 as the guest this season. They will also visit the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning before returning to Montreal to face Minnesota on March 1.

Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec missed the last game with flu-like symptoms and is questionable for tonight. Forward Mathieu Darche left Tuesday's contest after feeling dizzy and is questionable for this evening.

Washington has won four straight, five of six and seven of the last nine meetings with the Habs. The clubs have split the last four encounters in D.C.