By JON PALMIERI
(AP) -- If the Washington Capitals' first two games have proven anything, it's that they are a work in progress struggling to learn a new system under a new coach.
The shortened season makes it even more important for them to be a quick study.
Washington looks to avoid its first season-opening three-game losing streak in nearly two decades Thursday night when it faces the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
After allowing three unanswered third-period goals in a 6-3 loss at Tampa Bay in Saturday's season opener, the Capitals lost their home opener for the first time since 2000, falling 4-2 to Winnipeg on Tuesday.
The start is the Capitals' worst since they dropped their first six games to begin 1993-94.
Any losing streak is magnified in the lockout-shortened season, and a quick training camp and lack of preseason games didn't give first-time NHL coach Adam Oates much time to implement his systems.
"At this stage of the year, there's a little confidence issue," Oates said. "We're all second-guessing each other a little bit."
Of the 10 goals the Capitals have allowed, five have come while short-handed. Oates' team is 2 for 8 on the power play, and two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin has no goals.
"Right now, we just have to realize, we have to win a game," Ovechkin said. "We know what we have to do."
Beating Montreal is something the Capitals have done with regularity lately, winning the last six meetings. Washington is 9-0-2 in this series since its last regulation loss on Nov. 20, 2009.
Mathieu Perreault led the Capitals with three goals in last season's series, while Ovechkin had a pair.
Braden Holtby, who has a 5.04 goals-against average this season, has stopped 44 of 46 shots with one shutout in two career starts against the Canadiens.
Montreal rebounded from a lackluster 2-1 season-opening loss to Toronto on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Florida on Tuesday. Defenseman Andrei Markov scored a pair of goals - his first in only 17 games played since Nov. 9, 2010 - and 18-year-old Alex Galchenyuk had the first of his career.
Strong play from Markov is even more essential for Montreal with defenseman P.K. Subban a contract holdout. Subban led the team in minutes last season and was the top scoring defenseman with 36 points.
"Every goal and win is special," said Markov, who has endured two surgeries on the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. "I'm happy to be back and happy to be healthy and I'm just enjoying playing, especially here in front of our fans."
Carey Price has been sharp in the first two games, posting a 1.51 GAA, but he's 1-6-0 with a 2.93 GAA in his last eight appearances - including two in the 2009-10 postseason - against the Capitals.
The Canadiens went scoreless on 16 power-play opportunities versus Washington last season, and they haven't registered a goal with the man advantage in their last 33 chances in the series.
This is the first of two road games for Montreal in its first nine contests.
Updated January 23, 2013