After a brief respite at home, the Washington Capitals take to the road again to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre tonight. This will be the Caps’ second visit to the ACC this season, and it was sort of like Wake Forest visiting Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium for an ACC basketball game. The home team clobbered the visitors. In this instance, Toronto pummeled the Caps last November 19th by a 7-1 margin. The Leafs scored early (the first goal coming 99 seconds into the game), often (getting a 6-1 lead after 40 minutes), and in all number of ways (three even strength, three power play, one shorthanded) in leaving the Caps little more than road kill on the ACC ice.
This time, the stakes are higher. The Caps and Leafs are tied in standings points at the moment. Each team has its collective faces plastered to the glass looking in at the playoffs from the outside in ninth and tenth place, respectively, in the East. Both teams come into this game stumbling. The Caps got a toe-hold on their remaining schedule with a win over Montreal last night, but they are still 2-5-1 in their last seven games. Meanwhile, Toronto has lost three in a row and is 1-6-1 in their last eight games, their lone win coming in overtime against Edmonton
Over those eight games the Leafs have compiled only 15 goals. But the real problem seems to be at the other end. Toronto has allowed 31 goals in the eight games. It has not been a penalty killing problem; the Leafs have killed off 16 of 19 shorthanded situations (84.2 percent). No, the Leafs have just been leaky. Here is how the teams compare overall:
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2. Meanwhile, Phil Kessel has gone from sniper to set-up guy. He hit the 30-goal mark in a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on February 7th, but in seven games since then he has only one goal. He does have six assists in those games, though. He is 5-8-13 in 19 career games against the Caps.
3. It would be a good thing if the Caps were to get a 5-on-3 power play tonight (humor us). The Leafs have allowed the most 5-on-3 goals this season (seven)
4. Shots do not seem to matter much in Toronto decisions. They have the third-worst record in the league when outshooting their opponents, and they have the ninth-best record in the league when they are out-shot.
5. Brian Burke teams have a reputation for being edgy, for being nasty, for being “truculent.” So, Toronto has the eighth-fewest number of minor penalties called against them this season, they eighth fewest number of major penalties.
2. The 7-1 loss in Toronto this season aside, the Caps have found Toronto to their liking in recent years. Since the lockout they are 6-5-2 north of the border against the Leafs.
3. Penalties are to be killed, not allowed to thrash around and wreak havoc on the scoreboard, but only two teams have allowed more power play goals on the road than the 26 allowed by the Caps (Toronto, Columbus).
4. More road follies… Only two teams have allowed more shorthanded goals on the road than Washington. The five they have allowed is topped only by Detroit and New Jersey.
5. And one last thing… only Columbus has suffered more losses by three or more goals than the Caps, who have been beaten by that margin 14 times this season. Only Chicago has been involved in more three-or-more goal decisions (26) than have the Caps (24).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Toronto: James Reimer
If Toronto is going to be depending on James Reimer as the goaltender to backstop them to the playoffs, he is going to have to pick up his game some. He recorded back-to-back shutouts over Pittsburgh and Ottawa to start the month, but since then is 2-4-0, 3.88, .874, and he was pulled twice. One wonders about his sanity, too. On Thursday he was quoted as saying, “I love my position. For some strange reason, I love to be hit by pucks.” Strange, indeed, but in his line of work it is better than being missed by them. Reimer is 0-1-1, 2.90, .909 in two career appearances against Washigton.
Washington: Troy Brouwer
OK, Joel Ward got off the schneid with an open netter last night. Jason Chimera got one, too. Troy Brouwer might have had one – he might have had a pair – but for the theatrics of Carey Price. But he also remains without a goal in his last dozen games. He is also minus-7 in those 12 games. If the Caps need a player to pick up his game some, Brouwer would be a good candidate. He has not had much success against the Leafs, perhaps owing to the fact that he does not have much of a history here. In five career games he has a power play goal (a game-winner) and an assist.
1. Let’s all go the lobby…let’s all go to the lobby… Washington and Toronto are two-three in the league rankings when leading at the first intermission. Combined, they are 38-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes (Toronto having the overtime loss). Pay attention to who is leading when the horn blows. And that means…
2. No “minute” goals. In the 7-1 loss to Toronto in November the Caps allowed goals in both the first and second period with barely a minute gone by in the period. They also allowed goals in the last minute of both the first and second period. Needless to say, that’s a pretty sure way to lose a game. Stop it.
3. Play nice. The Caps are 4-7-1 on the road when allowing five of more power plays. OK, they are 6-11-2 when they don’t allow that many, but the Leafs have been struggling with their power play (2-for-21 in their last nine games – 9.5 percent). Don’t give them any more opportunities.
In the end, the Caps have to win – to demonstrate they can win on the road, to at least keep pace with Florida and Winnipeg (if not jump over Florida in the event of a Panther loss tonight), to establish some winning momentum. No more need be said.
Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 3