November 19 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 2 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (10-6-1)
Toronto Maple Leafs (10-7-2)
Two struggling hockey clubs hook up in a Hockey Night In Canada match-up in Toronto on Saturday night. The Washington Capitals seek to salvage something from their three-game road trip while the homestanding Maple Leafs are looking to quell a four-game losing streak on home ice.
With its 4-1 loss in Winnipeg on Thursday, Washington has opened a three-game road trip with consecutive losses in which it has scored exactly one goal in each game. The Caps have dropped to 4-5 on the road this season, and they’ve lost five of their last seven road contests overall.
The Capitals are 1-4-1 in their last six, and they’ve been outscored 20-12 in those half dozen games. In the third period of their seven losses this season, the Caps have been outscored by a combined 12-2.
In winning its first seven games of the season, the Capitals outscored their foes by a combined 21-10 at even strength and by 8-4 with the man advantage. In their last 10 games (3-6-1) since that torrid start, the Caps have been outscored 27-22 at even strength and 8-4 with the man advantage.
Washington scored first on Tuesday in Nashville and on Thursday in Winnipeg, but that was all the offense the Caps could muster on each of those nights.
The Capitals arrived in Toronto in the wee hours of Friday morning. They grabbed a few hours of sleep, and reconvened at Air Canada Centre around noon expecting to suit up for a scheduled practice session.
Instead, the Caps held a team meeting and were given the rest of the day off.
“I think they’ve been on the ice a lot,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “With the travel and that, sometimes just getting away for total rest – you’re in Toronto and there’s a lot to do – I just want them to take the time off and rest. With games Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, it seems never ending. With us getting in at 3:30 in the morning last night, I didn’t think a practice would really accomplish a lot. Last week we skated them really hard. This week, we’ll try a different tactic.”
Last week’s lengthy bag skate followed a dismal Nov. 8 loss to the Dallas Stars on home ice. The Caps came up with a 3-1 win over the Devils in New Jersey in the wake of that grueling practice. But Washington has now lost three straight (0-2-1), scoring just four goals in those three losses.
The Caps believe they’ve identified the issues that have led to their inconsistent performance over the last few weeks.
“We’ll correct it,” vows Boudreau. “I think every team in the NHL this year is going to go through at least one stretch where they’re going to lose five out of six or six out of 10. Hopefully this is our stretch and we’ve just gone through it. We’ll turn the corner because all good teams turn corners. We plan on turning the corner. We will identify and maybe we have identified the problem. And if we have, then we will fix it and move forward.”
“You work together,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “We know the system. There’s a system in place and everybody knows it. Now it’s up to guys to do it. You have to move your feet, one. You have to be aware of your assignments, two. And hustle. Work. We’re grown men. We know what to do. If you’re not doing it, it’s a choice that you’re not doing it. It’s not because you’re physically incapable. We’ve shown we can do it in the past. We just have to – as individuals – be better and work together as a team.”
The Caps have been struggling on the power play of late. Washington is 0-for-17 with the extra man in its last four games. Winnipeg scored two power play goals against Washington on Thursday, ending a stretch in which the Capitals had successfully killed 22 of 23 shorthanded situations in their previous six games.
For the season, the Capitals have dropped to 10th in the NHL with a power play success rate of 18.5%. Washington is 19th in the league with a penalty killing success rate of 81.2%.
Although the Maple Leafs head into Friday night’s NHL action in a tie for first in the NHL’s Northeast Division, Toronto is also just three points removed from the division’s cellar.
Like the Capitals, Toronto is also 1-4-1 in its last six games. Bidding for its first Stanley Cup playoff berth since before the lockout, Toronto got off to a healthy 9-3-1 start. Forwards Phil Kessel (25 points in 19 games) and Joffrey Lupul (20 points in 19 games) are pacing the Maple Leafs’ offensive attack, but Toronto is missing netminder James Reimer, who has been sidelined for nearly a month with concussion-like symptoms.
In his six starts this season, Reimer is 4-0-1 with a 2.58 GAA and a .912 save pct. In the remainder of Toronto’s games this season, goaltenders Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens have combined for a 6-7-1 mark to go along with a 3.41 GAA and an .887 save pct.
Reimer skated a bit on Friday at the Maple Leafs’ optional practice that followed the team’s 4-1 Thursday night loss to the Predators in Nashville. The goaltender is still likely several games away – at best – from being ready to return to the nets for game action.
The Leafs are a good bit banged up elsewhere on their roster as well. Forwards Colby Armstrong, Mikhail Grabovski, Matt Lombardi and Clarke MacArthur are unlikely to suit up on Saturday as is defenseman Mike Komisarek.
Toronto’s power play ranks 12th in the league at 17.8% on the season. The Maple Leafs rank 29th in the NHL in penalty killing prowess with a kill rate of just 74.3%.