Game Preview: Capitals and Maple Leafs Battle It Out In Saturday Night Showdown at Capital One Arena

nhl.coPhoto: NHL.com

The Washington Capitals take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first meeting of the season between the two teams at Capital One Arena on Saturday night. The game starts at 7 PM and can be seen on NBC Sports Washington, or the NHL Network for those outside of the DMV. 

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs made the biggest splash of free agency this summer, landing hometown hero and center John Tavares to a massive seven-year deal. After his second best statistical season in the NHL with the New York Islanders last season, where he tallied 37 goals and 84 points, the 28-year old center is off to a flying start with his new team. Through five games, Tavares has tallied six goals and 10 points.

With Tavares in the mix, Toronto has arguably one of the best 1-2 punches up the middle with him and center Auston Matthews, the NHL’s leading scorer with nine goals. He is tied with teammate and defenseman Morgan Reilly for the most points in the NHL with 12. The Maple Leafs boast the NHL’s top four scorers. Behind Matthews, Reilly, and Tavares comes forward Mitch Marner, who has recorded three goals and 10 points so far this season. Marner, 21, led Toronto with 69 points last season and has at least two points in each of his past four games.

In addition to Matthews and Tavares, Toronto also has Nazem Kadri, a 32-goal scorer from last year, down the middle.

The Maple Leafs conclude a four-game road trip against Washington on Saturday night. Toronto has won all of its first three games on the road trip and has scored seven times in a game twice in that span. The Maple Leafs most recently beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-3 at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday night. Prior to that, they beat the Chicago Blackhawks 7-6 in overtime in one of the wildest games of the season so far on Sunday night, and the Dallas Stars 7-4 on Tuesday night.

So far this season, the Maple Leafs are second in the NHL in goals per game average with 5. Only the New Jersey Devils (5.5) have scored more. Toronto is also tied with the Stars for first in power-play efficiency, converting at a rate with 50% on the man advantage.

Toronto may have a deadly offensive unit but have yet to sign forward William Nylander, a restricted free agent who put up back-to-back 61-point seasons. Nylander has to be signed to a new contract by December 1 to be eligible to play this season. He is back home in Sweden waiting on a new contract to be reached between Toronto and his agent. With Nylander out of the lineup, forward Tyler Ennis, who the Maple Leafs signed as a free agent last summer, has played in his spot on the top line with Matthews and forward Patrick Marleau.

The Capitals will likely get goaltender Fredrick Andersen on Saturday night against the Leafs. Andersen has a 3-1-0 record through four games, but largely due to his offensive support. The 29-year old native of Denmark has a save percentage of .893 and a goals-against average of 3.28 so far this season. Lifetime against Washington, Andersen is 3-1-1 with a save percentage of .909, a goals-against average of 2.88, and two shutouts.

Washington Capitals

Like the Maple Leafs, the Capitals are also rolling offensively. They’re right behind the Toronto and tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for third in the NHL with an average of 4.5 goals per game and fourth with a power play efficiency of 37.5%. Five of their players have averaged more than a point per game to start the season. More on Washington’s flying start on offense can be found here.

The Capitals are coming off of a horrible performance in a 6-0 loss to the Devils at Prudential Center in New Jersey’s home opener. The only two bright spots of the game for Washington were goaltender Pheonix Copley, who made 30 saves and played well despite allowing six goals, and a big hit by forward T.J. Oshie laid on Devils’ forward John Quenneville towards the end of the contest. The Capitals played a dreadful game on Thursday night but they were playing the second night of a back-to-back and put together a very good performance in the team’s 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night at home.

Going up against Toronto’s impressive collection of centers will be the Capitals’ own group of skilled centermen. Nicklas Backstrom, who recorded one goal and six points in the team’s first four games this season, and his line will likely go up against the Tavares line on Saturday night. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had one of the best games of his career with a goal and four points against the Golden Knights, leads the team with seven points.

Washington has been very good against Toronto as of late. The Capitals have won nine of the past 12 games, including two out of three last season, they have played against the Maple Leafs. In addition, Washington beat Toronto in six games during the team’s first-round series in 2017.

Goaltender Braden Holtby will likely start against the Maple Leafs. Holtby is 2-0-1 with a .907 goals-against average and a 2.98 goals-against average in his first three starts in 2018-19. In his career against the Maple Leafs, Holtby is 8-3-1 with a .934 save percentage, a 2.05 goals-against average, and one shutout.

Skate Shavings

-In 85 career games played on Saturday, Holtby holds a 57-18-9 record with a 2.19 goals against average, a .925 save percentage and nine shutouts and has a career 51-15-8 record against Canadian teams, with a 2.07 goals against average and a .931 save percentage and nine shutouts

-The Capitals have scored six goals in each period this season

-Defenseman John Carlson‘s six points are second among NHL defensemen so far this season

A Look Back in Time

After trailing 1-0 at the start of the second period, Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin tied it up on a beautiful relay on a backhand shot after getting a cross-crease pass from Kuznetsov on the power play. Toronto would restore their lead on a rebound a few feet away from Holtby with a little more than 10 minutes to go in regulation. Ovechkin thought that he scored on a backhand shot again after getting a rebound for his 484th career goal, which would have passed Sergei Fedorov for the most goals in the NHL by a Russian all-time, but it got waved off due to goaltender interference after Toronto challenged the call. With time winding down in regulation, Capitals forward Justin Williams threw the puck to the net from the corner. It would bounce to Backstrom, who buried it on the doorstep with 0.8 seconds left to tie the game. The game would go to a shootout, where Ovechkin hesitated, outwaited Toronto goaltender James Reimer, and roofed it top shelf for a 1-0 lead in top of the fourth round. After Ovechkin scored, Holtby would shutdown Kadri with a stretch of the right pad to clinch a thrilling come from behind victory at 7th and F.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was seeing T.J. Oshie's hat-trick​ during Game 1 of the Caps' second round playoff series against Pittsburgh in 2016. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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4 Responses to Game Preview: Capitals and Maple Leafs Battle It Out In Saturday Night Showdown at Capital One Arena

  1. DayOne Caps Fanatic says:

    A gruesome disaster was the 6-0 NJD game. Tomorrow vs TOR will be an excellent test of how the Caps REALLY are going in this early Defend-the-Cup season. Hurry back, Tom Wilson!

    Like

  2. J says:

    Early Keys for tomorrow….

    Defense!!!!- Caps defense it lightyears better then Leafs defense, win the game and championships on defense. Lock down the blueline. 5 men in every zone and cash in turnovers. Dont play chance for chance hockey otherwise itll be 7-6 like vs Pit.

    2, keep Matthews quiet- Matthews needs a 0 on the score sheet,
    Our big guns step up- Ov,Kuzy,Backy rebound from that bomb on Thurs and dominate.
    Holtby shut it down

    Like

  3. Pingback: The Copley Quandary: Why #1 Isn’t to Blame For Thursday’s Nightmare in Newark | NoVa Caps

  4. Pingback: Capitals’ Morning Skate News Roundup: Top-Line Stevie | NoVa Caps

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