March 11 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center
Time: 5:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 3:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 3:00 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com.
Toronto Maple Leafs (30-30-8)
Washington Capitals (34-28-6)
Fresh from a 4-3 road win over the Bruins in Boston, the Capitals return to the District for their only home game in a span of 15 days when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on Sunday.
Two weekends ago, the Caps swept a set of back-to-back games when they defeated the Montreal Canadiens on home ice on Feb. 24 and then took down the Maple Leafs in Toronto the next night. Washington will be seeking its third sweep of a set of back-to-back games this season on Sunday against the Leafs.
Washington ended a lengthy power play drought with Brooks Laich’s power-play goal in the second period of Saturday’s win over the Bruins. The Caps had been mired in an 0-for-18 power play dry spell and they were 2-for-39 with the extra man dating back to Feb. 9.
Defenseman Dennis Wideman crept in from the right point and threaded the puck to the slot where Laich redirected it past Boston goaltender Tim Thomas.
“I thought our forwards did a great job,” says Wideman of the Caps’ power play unit, which generated eight shots on goal in Saturday’s game. “There were only a couple times we had to go down [in our own end] and break it out. They did a great job of winning battles and in puck retrievals off shots and rebounds and stuff like that. They did a great job and we ended up scoring.”
The goal came on Washington’s third power play opportunity of the second period and with just three seconds remaining in that man-advantage. Having three power plays in a single period constitutes some serious extra-man largesse for the Caps. Prior to Saturday’s game, Washington had fewer than three power play chances in five of their previous six games.
Having three kicks at the man-advantage can gave the Capitals a rare chance for some much-needed power play reps.
“Maybe it tires out their penalty-killers, too,” notes Laich. “I know for myself, anything more than two kills in a period is tough to defend. For the third [power play chance], you have to capitalize on those opportunities and it ends up being the difference in the game. Our power play has been due; it’s been overdue. We were able to get one tonight and it ends up being the difference.”
Laich’s power-play goal – his first since Dec. 9 against Toronto – proved to be the game-winner. It was Washington’s first game-winning power play tally since Troy Brouwer supplied the deciding goal on the man-advantage in a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Jan. 3.
Saturday’s road win was Washington’s second in succession. The Caps defeated the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Feb. 25 in their prior road outing. This is the first time the Caps – who are now 12-18-3 on the road this season – have won two straight road games since Dec. 7-15.
“We haven’t been great on the road and now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty here and we had to get some wins,” says Wideman. “This is one of the toughest buildings to have to come into and get two points. It’s a huge win for us.”
“We’re not worried really about our overall record,” said Laich after Saturday’s win. “It is what it is. We’ve just got to approach the games and focus on today. I think we play five of our next six on the road, but that was in nobody’s mind today. It was come here and try to get the job done.
“I’m happy with the guys. I thought they played a really good game. They should be proud of themselves and get out of here and get back and do it again on [Sunday].”
For most of this season, the Maple Leafs seemed positioned to end a lengthy postseason drought, but they’ve fallen on seriously hard times of late.
The Leafs put together a three-game winning streak just after the NHL’s All-Star break, but Toronto is mired in a lengthy 2-11-2 skid since. That abysmal stretch cost former Leafs head coach Ron Wilson his job; the ex-Caps bench boss was fired just over a week ago. Randy Carlyle, a former Washington assistant coach, is the new sheriff in Toronto. The Leafs have gone 1-2-1 in Carlyle’s first four games at the helm.
Heading into Sunday’s NHL action, the Maple Leafs are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, seven points behind the eighth-place Capitals.
Toronto was also in action on Saturday night. The Leafs hosted the Philadelphia Flyers and ended up on the short end of a 1-0 shootout decision. Jonas Gustavsson started and was the hard-luck loser on Saturday against Philly; he made 27 saves in the contest.
James Reimer was in goal when the two teams last met on Feb. 25 in Toronto. The Caps earned a 4-2 win over the Leafs that night, scoring twice in the game’s first four minutes. Reimer has started just once since then. He was tagged with a 5-3 home ice loss to the Florida Panthers on Feb. 28. Reimer’s last victory came on Feb. 15 in a 4-3 overtime triumph over the Oilers in Edmonton.
Earlier this week, the Leafs lost forward Joffrey Lupul to a shoulder injury. Lupul, who ranked among the NHL’s top 10 scorers with 67 points (25 goals, 42 assists) at the time of his injury, is expected to miss the next three to four weeks of action.
The Maple Leafs have been outscored by a combined 54-33 in their last 15 games. Toronto is 2-6 in its last eight road games.