February 25 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5:00 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (30-26-5)
Toronto Maple Leafs (29-25-7)
The Caps close out the busiest portion of their schedule this season when they visit Toronto on Saturday night to play their sixth game in nine nights. Saturday’s visit to Toronto is also the second of back-to-back games for the Capitals and the team’s fifth road game in its last six contests.
Washington comes into Saturday’s game on the heels of a huge 4-1 home ice win over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night. The Caps jumped out to a 3-0 second-period lead and coasted to their third victory in as many games against the Habs this season.
After surrendering the game’s first goal in each of their previous half dozen games, the Caps came out strong and swift in the first period and had the upper hand over the Habs from the game’s first shift.
“Really big, actually,” says Caps center Brooks Laich of the importance of his team’s fast start in Friday’s win. “Our line started. We wanted to get it in first shift, and after that Matty [Perreault] followed up the shift, rushed up the ice and got [Alexander Semin] a chance and made it into the game. It was a big moment for us on the bench, actually. It got the building into it, it got the guys into it. We didn’t look back from there.”
Perreault staked the Caps to a 1-0 first-period lead with his 11th goal of the season, and the Caps’ first marker in the first frame of a game since they struck twice in a 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Feb. 7.
Now, the Caps need to follow that one up with another solid, 60-minute effort – and hopefully, another two points – on Saturday night against the Leafs in Toronto.
“We’ve done it before,” says Laich, “especially against [the Canadiens]. We’ve played solid hockey games against this team but we have to find that consistency. It’s sometimes frustrating because at times we’ve showed that we really know how to win.
“Tonight I thought we controlled the game very, very well. I thought we played solid. I didn’t think we gave them – especially their top guys – many chances at all. You could see frustration on their face. We just have to have that. We have to find a way to have that all the time.”
Michal Neuvirth notched his seventh win of the season in Friday’s game against the Canadiens, and his first since Jan. 18 when he whitewashed the Habs in Montreal. Friday’s win came in Neuvirth’s first Verizon Center start since Dec. 20, when he backstopped the Capitals to a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators.
Including a pair of consecutive relief efforts earlier in the week, Neuvirth has now stopped 74 of the last 78 shots he has faced for a .949 save pct. Tomas Vokoun is likely to start Saturday’s game in Toronto.
Vokoun is 9-4-2 with two shutouts, a 2.28 GAA and a .927 save pct. in 15 career starts against the Maple Leafs. In six career starts at Air Canada Centre, Vokoun is 3-3 with a shutout, a 2.41 GAA and a .909 save pct.
Washington has not seen the Leafs since Dec. 9 when the Caps powered past Toronto by a 4-2 count at Verizon Center. The Caps scored four power-play goals in that game. The Leafs smoked the Caps by a 7-1 score the first time the two teams met this season, back on Nov. 19 in Toronto. Vokoun started and lost that game, surrendering four goals on 18 shots before being pulled in favor of Neuvirth after 25 minutes of work.
Along with Toronto and a couple other clubs, the Caps are currently embroiled in a push for playoff positioning as the trade deadline draws near and teams head into the final quarter of the 2011-12 regular season. The Capitals pulled even with the Maple Leafs in the Eastern conference standings by virtue of Friday’s victory over the Canadiens; both Washington and Toronto have 65 points after 61 games. Washington has 30 wins to Toronto’s 29, so the Capitals sit in ninth place in the conference heading into Saturday night’s head-to-head match-up between the two teams.
Bidding for their first postseason berth since the 2003-04 season, the Leafs were among the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings for most of the first half of the season, but they’ve struggled mightily of late.
The Maple Leafs have won just one of their last eight games (1-6-1). Toronto has been outscored by a combined total of 31-15 in those eight contests.
Toronto won four straight games immediately after the turn of the calendar, and that is the club’s longest winning streak of the season to date.
The Leafs are eighth in the NHL with an average of 2.93 goals per game, but 28th in the circuit with an average of 3.0 goals against per game. Only Columbus (3.25 goals per game) and Tampa Bay (3.30 goals per game) have surrendered more goals than the Maple Leafs this season.
James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson have split the netminding duties for the Leafs this season. Toronto is reported to be in the market for a goaltender between now and Monday’s NHL trade deadline.