The Capitals made a quick run for the (northern) border, following their 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at Verizon Center. The Capitals are set to do battle with the Maple Leafs Saturday evening at the Air Canada Center in Toronto. Puck-drop is 7:00PM. The game is being nationally televised in Canada as the “Hockey Night in Canada” game of the week.
This is not the Maple Leafs team of recent years, as Toronto has quickly rebounded through solid draft work and the signing of head coach Mike Babcock in 2015. The Toronto franchise is truly being reborn. Having said that, Toronto (8-8-4) is currently in the midst of a mini-slump, losing their last three games in a row.
The revamped Maple Leafs include new young guns such as Auston Matthews, who is tied for the team lead in goals scored (8) and second on the team in total points (16). The 19-year-old, 6′-3″ centerman from San Ramon, California, rocked the hockey world at the start of this season, scoring four goals in his dazzling NHL debut – the first player in NHL history to do so.
Matthews is joined by a young, but talented group, including 20-year-old William Nylander, the son of former Washington Capitals centerman, Michael Nylander. William is currently third on the Maple Leafs in goals scored (6) and tied for third in points (15).
Matthews and Nylander are joined by additional young guns Mitchell Marner (19) and Connor Brown (22) that are setting a solid foundation for years to come in Toronto. Former Washington Capitals Connor Carrick, who was dealt to the Maple Leafs with Brooks Laich in the Daniel Winnik trade has seen consistent playing time as well.
The Maple Leafs are currently 11th in the league in power play conversions at 21.1%, and 14th in the league in the penalty kill at 82.0% for a combined special teams index of 103.1.
The Capitals (13-5-2) are playing the second game of a back-to-back set, having beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night at Verizon Center. Philipp Grubauer got the start in net for the Caps on Friday night, setting the stage for Braden Holtby to start for the Capitals in Toronto. Holtby is 10-4-1 in his starts this season.
The Capitals are third in the league in goals against per game played with an average of 2.15 goals allowed per game. The Capitals are 12th in the league in goals scored per game, with an average of 2.75 goals per game.
The Capitals recalled forward Paul Carey from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Saturday night, in what is likely a security move, should they need someone north of the border.
The Capitals were 1 for 4 on the power play Friday night against the Buffalo Sabres. The Capitals penalty was perfect against all four Sabres power plays. The Capitals power play is ranked 18th in the league with a 16.7% conversion rate. The Capitals penalty kill is now ranked 12th in the league with a 82.8 % success rate, for a combined special teams index of 99.5, their highest index of the season.
The Maple Leafs will be well-rested when the Capitals come to town, having last played on Wednesday, in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Devils in New Jersey. As noted, the Capitals will be playing their second game in a back-to-back set.
The Capitals swept the Maple Leafs last season. The Capitals won the last meeting between the two teams 3-2, back on March 2nd at Verizon Center. The game marked the first appearance back at Verizon Center for recently-traded Brooks Laich. The Capitals won 3-2 in a shootout in Toronto on November 7th, 2015, and won 4-2 in Toronto on November 28th, 2015.
- The Capitals are 13-5-2 through 20 games this season. Last season the Capitals were 14-5-1 through 20 games.
- Alex Ovechkin is just one power play goal shy of 200 for his NHL career.
By Jon Sorensen