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Preview: Washington Capitals Visit Maple Leafs

The Washington Capitals are looking to shake off yesterday’s disappointing loss by securing a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who also dropped their most recent game. With a record of 13-8-1, the Leafs are hoping to challenge the Tampa Bay Lightning for second in the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, in the Caps’ Metropolitan Division, the New Jersey Devils have been quietly climbing the standings, aided by a three-game win streak. They sit two points behind the second-place Capitals, who are hoping to avoid a third consecutive loss.

How do the Caps accomplish this? For starters, they need to hit the ground running. It can’t be said enough: Washington continually disappoints at the start of each period. At times, their flat starts set the mood for the remainder of the game. Last night’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens was a prime example of this–the Capitals allowed three goals before fifteen minutes had passed. Granted, they defended their zone well, as the Habs were unable to score for the remainder of the night, but the Caps couldn’t muster enough offense to at least send the contest into overtime. Alex Ovechkin delivered, scoring a goal on the power play and at even strength, but it wasn’t enough.

If the Capitals can open scoring, they’ll gain both a lead over the Leafs and some confidence. At this point, it’s hard to be picky about how the Caps will notch that elusive first goal. If scoring on the power play means beating their opponent to the scoreboard, then I can’t complain. It’s the remainder of the goals that I’m concerned about, as Washington can’t rely on its power-play unit for a primary source of scoring. Yes, this includes Ovechkin. He’ll probably be the team’s leading goal scorer as long as he plays in Washington, and I’ll gladly take a goal of his any day of the week–but the lack of contribution from other Capitals can’t be ignored.

Joel Ward and Mikhail Grabovski have scored nine and seven goals respectively, good for second and third on the team. Note how they’re both playing on the third line with Jason Chimera. That trio has clicked beautifully this season, and it shows in their point totals: they’ve contributed the most offensively.

Marcus Johansson of the Washington Capitals

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The same can’t be said for the second line, which has remained mostly the same. For last night’s game, however, Adam Oates moved Martin Erat to center and Brooks Laich back to his natural position of left wing. Per Mike Vogel, this looks to change tonight, as Oates presumably attempts to give the second line some punch. In place of Erat, Eric Fehr will return to the Caps’ lineup as a left wing playing with Grabovski and Troy Brouwer. Laich has moved to center once again, anchored by Chimera and Ward. These changes will hopefully be enough to counter Toronto’s potent offense, which is led by right wing Phil Kessel.

That’s not to say scoring will be made easier, even if these changes are effective. Regardless of who’s in net for Toronto, the Caps will have a tough time lighting the lamp, as both Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have posted outstanding numbers thus far. With respective save percentages of .934 and .942, it’s important that the Capitals take plenty of shots and hopefully wear down Toronto’s defense.

Hopefully, they won’t allow the Leafs to do the same, especially on the man advantage. Toronto has a impressive conversion rate of 23.6%, which ranks their power play fourth in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Capitals’ penalty kill has dropped to fifth in the league. That certainly isn’t a bad ranking, but let’s hope it doesn’t indicate a shift in Washington’s defensive abilities.

Tonight’s game will be unusually eventful for former Maple Leaf Grabovski, whose disconnect with Toronto coach Randy Carlyle likely played a role in his buyout over the summer. Fortunately, he’s put last season’s mediocre numbers behind him as a member of the Washington Capitals. What better way for Grabovski to return to Air Canada Centre than contributing to a win over his old team?

If you’re looking to go to the game, you can find Capitals vs. Maple Leaf tickets here from FanXchange.

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