December 6 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Toronto Maple Leafs (9-12-4)
Washington Capitals (18-8-2)
Washington’s four-game homestand continues on Monday when the Toronto Maple Leafs pay their second and final visit to Verizon Center this season. The Caps will be looking to get back in the win column after dropping each of their last two games.
On Thursday night in Dallas, the Capitals’ four-game winning streak came to a halt with a 2-1 loss to the Stars. Two nights later in the homestand opener at Verizon Center, the Caps came up on the short end of a 3-1 score against Southeast Division rival Atlanta.
In losing those two games, the Capitals appear to be in the midst of a bit of a scoring struggle that is reminiscent of the one they endured in the final three games of the 2010 playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.
Washington has fired 164 pucks at the net in its last two games, but only two of those have been lamp lighters. The Caps have had a total of 84 shots on goal in those two games – including a single-game season high of 46 against Atlanta – but they’ve also had 42 shots blocked and another 38 that missed the net altogether.
In the last three games of their series against Montreal last spring, Washington fired 134 shots on goal per game, an average of about 45 per game. They also had 83 blocked – including an almost unfathomable total of 41 in Game 7 – and missed the net 39 times.
Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec played well against Washington on Saturday, stopping 45 of 46 shots. But Caps coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t think his team did enough to manufacture second chances and rebound opportunities down low and in front of the net.
“The [Atlanta] game certainly looked a lot like [the Montreal series],” says Boudreau. “I think we took 86 shots at the net. We talked about Pavelec being really good, but we didn’t fight our way through to get those second shots. That’s why practice was the way it was.”
Sunday’s planned off day turned into a practice instead because Caps coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t think his offense was involved enough and committed enough to do the necessary dirty work to score goals.
Washington also worked on its power play on Sunday, which has scored one goal on eight chances in the last two games. The Caps had 15 power play shots against the Thrashers, but failed to score on five extra-man opportunities. Those 15 shots came from an average distance of 31.2 feet, not exactly prime scoring real estate.
“I think just getting back to our structured foundation that makes us successful,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green of what tweaks are necessary to make the power play tick a bit better. “It’s never a bad idea to work on it. We’ve been good lately; we haven’t been great. There is some room for improvement.”
Boudreau wants his team to learn its lessons now, rather than doing so more painfully in the spring.
“I just want us to learn from it because if teams see this,” says the Caps coach, “they’re going to all do it.”
The Caps’ power play ranks fifth in the NHL, but another timely power play goal or two in either of the last two games could have led to another standings point or two.
“The defense has got to get [the puck] through,” declares Boudreau. “They can’t just shoot it blindly. They were backing up and having four and five guys blocking the net when we shot the puck [Saturday] night. We’ve got to find a way to get around that so we can score some goals.
“We’ve been squeezing the sticks pretty tight lately. If you look at our last 10 games, we’ve had two one-goal games and two shutout games. That’s very uncharacteristic of this team.”
Washington scored 27 goals in its first 10 games of the season, and 42 in its second 10. It has 27 goals in its last eight games. Excluding empty-netters, the Capitals have scored only seven goals in their last four games.
A few nagging injuries have crept into the Caps’ roster, as defensemen John Erskine and Tom Poti both missed Saturday’s game while Tyler Sloan returned to live action for the first time in nearly two weeks.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who are questionable for [Monday] but I won’t say who they are at this stage,” says Boudreau.
“We had a tough couple of losses there the last two games,” says Washington forward Matt Hendricks. “We look forward to [Monday] night. We look forward to righting the ship and getting back on the horse that we need to be on.”
After a swift 4-0 start this season, the Leafs have dropped down the Eastern Conference standings to their current location of fifth in the Northeast Division and 13th in the Eastern Conference. Toronto is nine points south of the eighth and final playoff spot in the east.
An anemic offensive attack has plagued the Leafs this season. They rank 29th in the league in goals scored with just 2.12 per game.
Toronto’s penalty killing unit has also struggled. The Leafs have killed off just 75.6% of their foes’ power play chances this season, also 29th in the league.
The Leafs come to town on the heels of a 3-2 shootout win over the Bruins in Toronto. That win ended a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) in which the Leafs scored a total of four goals. Toronto’s victory over Boston followed a 5-0 home ice whitewashing at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.
“Jekyll and Hyde team,” says Boudreau of the Leafs. “They obviously didn’t play very good against the Oilers but they played very good against Boston [Saturday] night. They play us very hard in this building. They’re always one-goal games, overtime games. Sometimes it’s better to get out of that rat race of Toronto with all the people all over them. They come on the road and it’s easier for them to play.”
With just two victories (2-7-1) in its 10 road games this season, Toronto is tied with the New York Islanders for the fewest road wins in the league.