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Game Day - Habs @ Caps

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[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]

To say that the Caps and Canadiens are two teams headed in different directions would assume, probably incorrectly, that the Canadiens actually have some direction right now.

A popular pick to win the East back in the Fall, the Habs have won just three of their last thirteen games and have dropped to fifth in the Conference, seemingly challenging the Rangers to see who can drop out of the top eight quicker. Their star goalie is 2-7-0/4.00/.863 in his last nine starts (and 0-2-0/6.00/.824 in his last two), they have more than $10 million of salary on injured reserve, and they've just told their leading scorer of a season ago that they won't be needing his services for the next couple of games (this despite scoring just two goals in five of their last six outings). Oh, and in case you hadn't heard, the Canadiens are currently celebrating their centennial season (and celebrating heartily, at that).

Yes, the Habs are in turmoil as they come to D.C. to face a Caps team that has already beaten them twice (Simeon Varlamov's stellar debut and Jose Theodore's redemptive shutout) against one victory (an ugly third period Capital collapse) on the season. And to top it off, Montreal is 1-8-0 in their last nine road games, while the Caps have the East's best home mark at 22-4-1.

But despite their recent struggles, the Canadiens are not to be taken lightly, and the Caps, for their part, have suffered three of their four regulation home losses on the season in the first game back after a road trip, so the trap is indeed set - the Caps would be wise to tread carefully.