Blackhawks host Capitals in Winter Classic preview

( - Before the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals meet outdoors on New Year's Day comes Friday's preview of the Winter Classic at the United Center.

The Capitals will host the Blackhawks on Jan. 1 at Nationals Park in D.C., but Washington first hopes to snap a lengthy losing streak in tonight's clash in Chicago.

Washington has lost five in a row, dropping the first four in regulation before salvaging a point from Tuesday's overtime loss against visiting Calgary. It's the Capitals' first five-game skid since an 0-3-2 stretch from March 25-April 4 last season.

The struggling Caps carried a 3-2 lead over the Flames into the third period, but Calgary's Markus Granlund scored with 5:10 left in regulation to send the game to OT. Sean Monahan then tallied at the 4:17 mark of the extra session to hand the Flames two points.

The setback spoiled a special night for Washington star Alex Ovechkin, who became the franchise's all-time leader in points. Ovechkin broke a tie with Peter Bondra to become the Capitals' leading scorer with an assist on Nicklas Backstrom's goal in the first period. He had two assists, giving him 827 points in his 10th season.

The decisive moment of the game, however, came when Monahan beat Braden Holtby from the low left side off a pass from Josh Jooris.

Holtby made 19 saves in the loss, while Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward joined Backstrom as the goal-scorers for Washington.

"No question about the effort. Everybody played hard," Ovechkin said. "We stuck together and fought for it together. We just have to keep playing hard."

Washington is 2-3-0 as the guest this season and is on the road for just one night before returning to D.C. for an upcoming three-game homestand. The residency is set to begin Saturday against Carolina.

The Blackhawks hope to post consecutive wins for the first time in over two weeks when they take the ice on Friday. Chicago last notched two wins in a row from Oct. 18-21 when it beat Nashville and Philadelphia.

Joel Quenneville's club halted a two-game slide Tuesday night in Montreal, as the Blackhawks slammed the Canadiens 5-0. Corey Crawford stopped all 28 shots to earn the win in his hometown, while Kris Versteeg scored a pair of goals in Chicago's dominating victory.

"I thought our game was pretty solid and it started with our penalty killers in the first," Crawford noted. "We got tough offensively and we were moving the puck quickly in the offensive zone."

Jonathan Toews produced a goal and one assist for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane and Brad Richards also scored, while Bryan Bickell and David Rundblad produced two assists each as Chicago blanked the Habs in Montreal for the first time since 1999.

Patrick Sharp was injured in the game and the veteran forward will miss 3-to-4 weeks with a lower-body issue. He has three goals and six assists this season and will be replaced on the roster by forward Peter Regin, who was recalled Thursday from Rockford of the American Hockey League.

Crawford will get the start in net tonight and he is 2-1-1 with a 3.77 goals against average in four career outings versus Washington.

Holtby could start again for Washington. He is 1-1-0 with a 3.90 GAA in two career outings versus the Blackhawks while backup Justin Peters suffered a regulation loss in his only game against Chicago. Peters gave up five goals on 29 shots when he faced the Blackhawks for the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2010-11 season.

Chicago is 4-2-1 as the home team this season and is kicking off a three-game homestand tonight. The Blackhawks have claimed two straight and three of their last four home tests versus Washington, but the Caps have won four of the past six meetings overall.