The Washington Capitals' sizable lead atop the NHL affords them the luxury of already preparing for a playoff run, something they clearly had in mind with their first in-season acquisition.
With Mike Weber potentially making his team debut, the Capitals go for a six-game home winning streak Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens.
Washington (44-10-4) has a comfy 10-point edge on Western Conference-leading Dallas in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. It's also 17 points ahead of Florida for the top seed in the East.
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The Capitals will ultimately be judged by what happens in the playoffs, and the pressure will be on after being ousted before the conference finals in seven of the past eight seasons despite winning five division titles and one Presidents' Trophy. They're also trying to shake the reputation of a finesse team that's unprepared for more rugged play in the postseason.
Weber, a tough defenseman, was acquired from Buffalo on Tuesday in the hopes that he can help prevent that from happening again.
"Mike is a stay-at-home defenseman, who plays a physical game and is respected by his teammates," general manager Brian MacLellan said. "We felt it was important to add depth to our blue line by adding another quality veteran defenseman."
The Capitals allow just 2.28 goals per game to rank behind only New Jersey's league-low 2.25.
They also lead the league with an average of 3.29 goals scored thanks in large part to Alex Ovechkin's NHL-leading 39.
Ovechkin is on a tear, scoring 11 goals during Washington's 9-1-0 run. He has two points in three straight games, netting a goal with an assist in a 3-2 win over Arizona on Monday.
"For us it doesn't matter how many points we're going to have," Ovechkin said of the Caps' chances at breaking the team-record 121 from 2009-10. "We just have to be in first place to make sure we're going to have home advantage. That's the most important thing."
He has just one assist in two games against Montreal (28-27-5) this season, but Washington has won both after taking the last meeting in 2014-15.
Braden Holtby is 8-0-2 with a 1.36 goals-against average in 10 career starts against the Canadiens, starting each of the last three matchups. He's 17-0-1 with a 2.03 GAA in 19 home starts since his most recent regulation loss on Oct. 28 against Pittsburgh.
Montreal, which is seven points back of the East's second wild-card spot, is 3-14-1 in its last 18 road games. The club has dropped five in a row while surrendering an average of 4.8 goals.
A 2-1 home loss to Nashville on Monday was the Canadiens' fourth in five overall, and bouncing back in Washington seems unlikely.
"We've got to go in there with the mindset that it's going to take a full 60 minutes, if not more, to beat a team like that," left wing Max Pacioretty told the team's official website. "We have to have that mindset that we're willing to do whatever it takes every shift."
Pacioretty leads the Canadiens with 21 goals, but he only has two in the last 14 and none in the past three versus the Capitals.
P.K. Subban doesn't have a point in the two matchups this season despite leading Montreal with 46.