The Caps have already proven that they’ve figured out all kinds of ways to lose games in this shortened season. Now it’s time for them to show they know how to win a game on the road.
Washington almost broke through at Ottawa on Tuesday night, playing an excellent first two periods. But all of the team’s good work fell apart down the stretch, and even though the Senators’ game-winner came on a power play that resulted from a questionable call, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who was happy with that third period.
Something has to give tonight in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs failed to record a single point in their first two home games. They do at least come in off a win, earning a hard fought 4-3 victory at Buffalo on Tuesday.
And if anyone knows what kind of pressure Alex Ovechkin (1 goal in 6 games this season) is under to get it going offensively, it’d be Toronto’s Phil Kessel. The usually high-scoring American winger hasn’t found the back of the net yet despite launching 27 shots on goal, tied for second in the NHL. Kessel probably hasn’t been questioning himself this much since he was the guy no one wanted in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game.
With Kessel struggling, the Leafs have relied on a balanced attack that has seen four different players score three goals. Matt Frattin played the hero in the Sabres game with an overtime winner, and the 25-year old forward has five points in just three games so far.
In net, the Leafs have split their six starts evenly between James Reimer and Ben Scrivens. Reimer has yet to get the nod at at the Air Canada Centre, but it stands to reason that he might get the call tonight since Scrivens has fared poorly in his two home starts.
The Caps may also have a choice to make between the pipes. Michal Neuvirth has been the better of the team’s goalies in 2013, but with the Philadelphia Flyers coming to Washington on Friday night, coach Adam Oates could opt for Braden Holtby to face the Leafs.
Already mired in their worst start in nearly a decade, the Capitals could find themselves dead last in the East if they lose tonight and the Florida Panthers (playing at home against the Winnipeg Jets) win. If that doesn’t sound so bad after seven games, consider this: following the Flyers game, the season will be already be one-sixth of the way over.
It might not be correct to call it a must-win game, but an “awfully-nice-to-win” game sounds about right.
Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs
Start time: 7 pm EST
TV: Comcast SportsNet