Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Washington Capitals At Montreal Canadiens

Saturday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils was an opportunity for the Washington Capitals to earn their first win in nearly two weeks. Instead, they extended their season-worst losing streak to seven games. The loss solidified the Caps’ seventh-place rank in the Metropolitan Division, leaving them only three points ahead of the division-worst New York Islanders.

After six consecutive losses, it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly the Capitals should focus on improving. Lackluster offense, yes–the team scored its second goal in three games against the Devils, courtesy of Jason Chimera. If the Caps can’t outscore the opposition, they’ve got to rely on their defense to shut opponents down.

It’s hard to win games when you can’t score or play even mediocre defense in your own zone, though mediocre might be a generous term when describing the Capitals’ play as of late. They face the Montreal Canadiens next, who are clinging to third place in the Atlantic Division.

While the Habs are certainly the stronger team–at least in terms of points–they too are struggling to generate offense. They’ve been outscored by at least two goals in their past three games. Their last two outings have produced as many goals, despite an offensively capable roster.

P.K. Subban leads the team with 36 points in 51 games, while Max Pacioretty’s 21 tallies make him the Habs’ leading goal scorer. They don’t have a sniper in lieu of Alex Ovechkin, but they’re able to generate secondary scoring–a strength the Capitals will find difficult to battle.

The Caps have been missing their captain for two games now, and Mikhail Grabovski might join him in the press box. Losing two of their most productive players would be a devastating blow, given their inability to score. Drop the focus on producing at even strength; the Caps will gladly take any goal they can get. Forget relying on the power play; it’s been a mess. Having the NHL’s third-most productive power play unit is something to brag about, until it can’t capitalize when needed.

With four road games ahead, the future might be looking bleak for the Capitals–but at the very least, that’s no reason to allow mental errors. The losing streak could be an unusually bad slump or indicative of the need to make some drastic changes, but time won’t wait for a solution to magically appear. An underlying issue in the coaching system could be the problem, but the small things matter too. Taking bad penalties and hanging the goalie out to dry won’t help the Caps become playoff contenders. Regaining a top spot in the Metropolitan Division will be difficult but not impossible, and the Caps can begin the climb with a win over the Habs.

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