Nov. 23 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (12-10-1)
Toronto Maple Leafs (13-8-1)
A night after finishing off a 1-2 homestand with a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center, the Capitals head to Toronto for a Saturday night date with the Maple Leafs and Hockey Night in Canada.
Washington’s homestand started with promise as the Caps scored three times in the first period in earning a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. But the Caps surrendered a pair of goals in the first frame in suffering a 4-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.
Then the Capitals spotted the Habs three goals in the first frame of Friday’s rubber game of the homestand as Washington’s comeback bid proved to be too little, too late. As they take on the Leafs in Toronto, the Capitals will be seeking to avoid their first three-game losing streak in more than a month, since they dropped three in a row from Oct. 5-12 to fall to 1-4 on the season in the second week of the campaign.
“Another tough team in a tough building with travel here,” said Caps right wing Troy Brouwer after the loss to Montreal. “Guys are going to have to show up, put their character on the line here and see what’s inside of us. We need to have a good start. We’re losing ground on our division and we can’t against these teams Like tonight, I thought we played a good second 40 minutes, but that first 18 or 19 minutes is what won or lost the game for us.”
The Caps were down by three goals before the 14-minute mark of the first period against the Canadiens. They took five minor penalties, made mistakes in coverage, and failed to record a shot on goal for nearly nine minutes while trying to get back into the game.
Washington has had a pattern of poor starts this season, and the Caps were outscored by a combined total of 5-1 in the first period of the two losses that ended the homestand.
“Preparation I think is upon the individuals,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “Whatever you have to do to feel good at night and be ready to play the game – I think some guys like to be intense and some guys like to be a little bit more loose – whatever we’re doing right now isn’t working.
“Whether it’s spending some time with your linemates, or your [defensive] partner, or a five-man group, we have to change something before the game so that we are prepared. It used to be a strength of our hockey club, especially in this building. We used to get a field goal in almost every first period, and we haven’t done that at all this year, and that’s something we certainly have to address.”
The Caps have been outscored 24-15 in the first period this season. Only five teams have scored fewer goals in the first frame, and only five have allowed more.
In Friday night’s agme against the Canadiens, Washington’s second line took on a slightly new look when Caps coach Adam Oates moved veteran forward Martin Erat to the middle of the line with Laich and Brouwer. Laich had been manning the middle with Erat occupying his usual left wing slot.
“I thought Marty was great,” said Laich after the Montreal game. “I honestly thought it was one of our better games. There is some stuff that we have started to implement as a foundation for our line, certain litte plays that we were able to execute tonight. There has been a lot of communication, a lot of talk the last couple of days between me and Marty and Brouw and tonight I thought we had a lot more speed going down the ice and we spent some more time in the offensive zone.”
Erat played some center in the preseason, but hasn’t played the position on a regular basis since his junior hockey days.
“It’s different,” says Erat of the move. “You have to get used to it. It’s something where I didn’t play for a long time. Now I’m trying to work on it and we’ll see how it goes.”
The three players have combined to scored just four even-strength goals in 23 games thus far this season.
“Marty is a good defensive player,” states Brouwer. “He plays well. He grew up in the Nashville system which is very defense-oriented. They play a real tight, solid-checking game.
“Having Marty in the center [gave us] speed, some good skill and a real good defensive head on him. We were comfortable with him in the middle there. We weren’t in our zone too many times, and if he every needed help, me and Brooksie are capable of playing down low. I thought he played a good game in the middle for his first one.”
Braden Holtby is expected to be back in goal for the Caps on Saturday night in Toronto. Michal Neuvirth made 28 saves in a losing effort on Friday against the Habs.
Toronto roared out to a 6-1 start this season, and the Maple Leafs have gone 7-7-1 in the 15 games since then.
Injuries have plagued the Leafs a bit of late. Center Tyler Bozak hasn’t played since an Oct. 25 game against the Blue Jackets. He is getting close to a return, and it’s believed he could be back in the lineup on Saturday when Washington comes to town.
Toronto center Dave Bolland is out indefinitely after undergoing ankle surgery. In need of some shoring up in the middle of the ice, the Maple Leafs made a move last week, obtaining center Peter Holland from the Anaheim Ducks.
The Maple Leafs are in the midst of a five-game homestand, their longest of the season. After starting off with wins over Buffalo and the Islanders, respectively, the Leafs dropped a 4-2 decision to the Nashville Predators on Thursday. The Leafs will close out the homestand with a visit from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, and then Toronto takes off on a three-game trip of its own.
Goaltending had been a problem for the Leafs in recent seasons, but Toronto appears to be flush in that area now. The tandem of offseason acquisition Jonathan Bernier (from Los Angeles) and incumbent James Reimer have teamed to limit foes to 2.36 goals per game, the 10th best mark in the league.
Toronto permits an average of 35.5 shots on net per night, and both Reimer (.942) and Bernier (.934) have compiled impressive save percentages in the early going.