The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It’s Saturday in Washington… Toronto, too. And that’s where the Caps find themselves this morning as they prepare to take on the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Caps will be anxious to get the taste of a 3-2 loss to the Canadiens out of their mouths tonight, and…
“beep, oot, blat-blat… ooooooooooooooooooh”
“Oh, don’t mind him. He can’t wait for the ‘Star Wars: In Concert' show at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday.”
And you are…
"I am C-3PO, Human-Cyborg relations. And this is my counterpart, R2-D2."
I’m, uh… sure. And you’re here for a hockey game?
“Oh, yes. We find the action quite exciting. Much like the dogfights Master Luke fought when he defeated Lord Vader. This is our first such game in person.”
And you picked a Toronto Maple Leafs game to see…
“We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life.”
And your little friend here… looks a little like Martin St. Louis.
“Sir, San Loo’ee is the Lord High Commissioner of the forest moon of Endor.”
Well, all I know is that he’s a forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Tampa Bay Lightning, sir?....that sounds like the storms we encountered on Kamino.”
Whatever. At least you get to see the Caps for your first game in person.
“Oh, yes sir. And we’ve read so much about this ‘Alex Ovechkin,’ haven’t we R2?”
“He’s quite excited, sir. He was just remarking on our way over here that Ovechkin has more power than the Death Star.”
Well, I hope you two enjoy the game.
“We do have one question before you go, sir.”
“Do you know of any ‘Star Trek’ conventions in town? We just love to trash talk those pointy-eared twerps.”
While those two are going where no robot has gone before, we have a game tonight. You could not find a more dangerous opponent to face than the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not good, mind you, just dangerous. Why? Let’s look at the record. The Leafs started the season 0-7-1. In doing so, they scored a grand total of 15 goals. They allowed 35. Then, they gave indications of having a heartbeat. Not a strong one, mind you, but at least a pulse. They went 3-0-4, including a 5-1 whomping of Detroit, and Leafs fans were probably thinking about vantage points on the parade route in June.
That Detroit win was the Leafs’ last one, on November 7th. Since then, they are 0-4-1, scoring more than two goals only once (against Carolina, which is without the services of their top two goaltenders, so that one shouldn’t count). And then there are the numbers…
Yes, this game is dangerous because Toronto is so bad, a loss to them would be nothing short of embarrassing. OK, so… can the Maple Leafs embarrass the Caps? Yes. It wouldn’t be the way to bet (unless handing your money over to the fellow at the betting window, never to see it again, is a fetish of yours), but there are possibilities.
For one, Phil Kessel is back on the ice. He has goals in four of the eight games he’s played since coming back from shoulder surgery. He hasn’t had a lot of success against the Caps in his brief career (2-2-4 in ten games), but coming into this one 5-2-7 in his last six games, he’s coming in hot.
Tomas Kaberle – of the famous Rakovnik Kaberle’s – comes into this game tied with Mike Green atop the scoring rankings among defensemen. This is his 11th season of being the good soldier in Toronto playing for some mediocre (and some other ghastly) teams. He’s mentioned a lot in the usual spaces that talk about trade rumors, but there he is, still wearing the blue and white. He is 5-13-18 in 34 career games against Washington, and he has an assist in the team’s only meeting this year (a 6-4 Caps win in the home opener for Washington). He had quite a run in late October with a five game run in which he was 2-11-13. Since then, he’s gotten into a pattern, alternating games in which he records a point with those in which he does not. He had an assist for the Leafs in the 6-5 Gimmick loss to the Hurricanes on Thursday, so the pattern seems to bode well for the Caps.
After that, you have to wonder where the results are going to come from at either end of the ice for Toronto. After Kaberle, the Leafs do not have a player with more than 13 points (the Caps have seven players with more than 13 points, five of whom should dress tonight). They have only two players with more than five goals (Alexei Ponikarovsky and Niklas Hagman), and even if you put Kessel in this group of scorers, the Caps have five players with more than five goals, four of whom should dress tonight.
At the other end, Mike Komisarek has a torn quadriceps muscle (what, not a "lower body injury?”) and is on injured reserve. Filling the breach is Carl Gunnarsson, a 23-year old seventh round draft pick (2007) for whom this is his first year of professional North American hockey. However well thought of he is (and he is), he has 12 games with the Marlies and three with the Leafs on his North American resume. He’s averaged a few ticks under 20 minutes of ice time, and if he gets that many tonight, he is going to be matched against some formidable firepower. Perhaps not the Ovechkin-Backstrom line, but he will see minutes against the Morrison line.
In goal, things are a mess for the Leafs. Jonas Gustavsson has allowed three, four, and five goals in his last three appearances. Carolina – yes, Carolina – scored three goals in the last 12 minutes to take the game on Thursday into overtime, after which they won in the Gimmick phase. How bad is that? Carolina had scored three goals in 60 minutes of regulation in only five of 20 games leading up to the contest with Toronto.
That would leave Vesa Toskala, who is probably 2,324,567th on the Leaf fan’s holiday card mailing list these days. He is so adored by Leafs fans that he has not started a game on Toronto ice since October 10th (he lost, 5-2, to the Penguins). A knee injury contributed to his absence on the ACC ice, but it’s not as if coach Ron Wilson was taking extraordinary measures to get him home ice time in any case. Oh, but the way, Toskala hasn’t won a game this season. He is 0-4-2, 4.26, .854. He has one game this season (in eight appearances) in which he has saved at least 90 percent of the shots he faced. He lost that game, too.
There are no excuses here, not playing back to back, not playing on the road, not playing with injuries, not sunspots. The Caps can, should, must, had better win this game. Losing to a team this bad can only be accomplished as a product of effort, as in “giving none.” And that is why this game is so dangerous. As Caps fans know, a night of iffy effort is not something that has been expunged from the Caps operating manual. Recall the first meeting between the teams in the home opener, when the Caps scored three goals in the game’s first 14 minutes. They allowed things to get entirely too interesting in a 6-4 final score, as Toronto scored three times in the third period.
But if they give the effort tonight that they are capable of – and with a national television audience in Canada watching, that should be motivation enough – this could end ugly for the Maple Leafs.
Caps 6 - Maple Leafs 2