Jan. 10 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Toronto Maple Leafs (21-19-5)
Washington Capitals (21-16-6)
Washington opens a three-game homestand on Friday night at Verizon Center when it hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first of two games this season. For the Capitals, the game is the second in a set of back-to-back contests. The Capitals ended a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 road win over the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
After taking a 3-1 lead into the second period, the Caps were nicked for even-strength strikes from the Lightning in both the second and third periods. The Bolts tied the game with 5:30 remaining on a nifty deflection from rookie Ondrej Palat, but Washington stiffened and managed to earn the win in regulation.
In the final minute of the contest, Caps winger Eric Fehr made a deft deflection of his own, tipping a Mike Green point shot past Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback to enable Washington to atone for its lost lead.
“These are the kind of games that can be momentum builders for you,” said Fehr after the Caps’ win over the Lightning on Thursday. “It wasn’t the prettiest way to win it, but scoring in the last couple of minutes there, I think the team really rallied. You could see the excitement on the bench. Hopefully we can carry that into [Friday].”
Washington scored three goals in the first period of Thursday’s game, including a pair on the power play. Green believes the Caps will need a similar start on Friday against the Maple Leafs.
“I think we need to set the tone right away,” says Green, “early in the game [on Friday] and get our momentum going early so that we can kind of keep this thing rolling. It’s always tough. You’re obviously tired. We have a little bit of a flight [Thursday] that may come into play so we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing the right things to prepare for [Toronto]. Hopefully the momentum from this game and the confidence from winning will roll into [Friday’s game].”
Washington took only one minor penalty in Thursday’s game against the Lightning and it had three power plays of its own, scoring on two of them. The Caps’ discipline enabled bench boss Adam Oates to spread the minutes around fairly evenly heading into the second of back-to-backs on Friday against the Maple Leafs, and he was able to deploy his fourth line a bit more than he had been able to in some recent contests.
“I still would have liked to get them out one more time,” noted Oates after Thursday’s game, “but [the Lightning] dresses seven [defensemen] and 11 forwards. They double-shift guys a lot so I didn’t want to get the guys caught out there against the wrong match-up, and [Friday] night, back-to-back, we’re going to need them again.”
During the life of their four-game losing streak (0-2-2) the Capitals played good hockey and played well enough to win each night. The challenge on Thursday was to do so again on the road against a solid Lightning team. Washington weathered a few uneven patches as Tampa Bay tried to erase the Caps’ early lead, but the Capitals were able to turn in another solid performance. Even better, they picked up two important and much-needed points and nudged their way into third place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division.
Philipp Grubauer earned the win in goal for the Caps in Thursday’s game, setting aside 33 of the 36 shots he faced to run his record to 6-2-3 on the season. Thursday’s game started a busy stretch of scheduling in which Washington must play six times in nine nights. With that in mind and with Thursday’s 36-shot workload, it’s highly unlikely that Grubauer will get the net again for the Caps on Friday when the Leafs visit.
Washington has been carrying three goaltenders for several weeks now. Grubauer has received the lion’s share of the workload; he has started 10 of the team’s last 14 games. Braden Holtby started and lost a 5-3 setback to the Wild in Minnesota on Saturday, and Michal Neuvirth has not started or even dressed for a game since Nov. 22 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Expect to see either Holtby or Neuvirth in net against the Leafs on Friday.
Toronto was also in action on Thursday night, taking a 6-1 shellacking from the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.
Since rolling out to an impressive 10-4 start in the season’s first month, the Maple Leafs have skated to a decidedly lackluster 11-15-5 mark in 31 games since. The Leafs decisioned Detroit 3-2 in a shootout in the 2014 Winter Classic, and they’ve lost three straight since. Toronto has been outscored by a combined 18-5 in those three losses.
Over the last 51 days, Toronto has authored just two regulation wins, a 7-3 home ice win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 14 and a 5-2 triumph over Carolina in Toronto on Dec. 29.
The Maple Leafs are 7-9-4 on the road this season. Among all NHL clubs, only Buffalo (3-14-2) has fewer victories away from home. Toronto is 2-7-4 on the road since the end of October.
Toronto’s power play unit has clicked on just three of 28 opportunities (10.7%) in the team’s last 10 games. The Leafs have allowed at least one power play goal in five of their last six games, going 11-for-17 (64.7%) during those half dozen games.
The Maple Leafs won a 2-1 shootout decision from Washington in the only prior meeting between the two clubs this season, on Nov. 23 in Toronto. Leafs netminder James Reimer stymied the Caps that night, stopping 49 of the 50 shots he faced. Reimer went the distance in Thursday’s loss to the Hurricanes, so the Caps are likely to see Jonathan Bernier in net for the Leafs on Friday night.
Bernier had started six straight games before Reimer got Thursday’s assignment in Raleigh. Since the calendar turned to 2014, Bernier is 1-2 with a 4.12 GAA and an .889 save pct. in three starts.