Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night for the first game between the two teams this season. The Maple Leafs took two of the three games against the Capitals last year, including a 4-2 victory in the nation’s capital on October 13, 2018. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.
After a bit of a slow start as they went 2-2-1 in their first five games, the Maple Leafs, who fell in seven games to the Boston Bruins in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season last Spring, head into Wednesday’s game coming off of back-to-back victories. They will be playing the second game of a back-to-back set after beating the Minnesota Wild by a score of 4-2 at home on Tuesday night.
Center Auston Matthews, who averaged 1.07 points per game last season, enters Wednesday’s game with seven goals, which is tied with Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal for the league-lead, and a team-leading eight points in seven games. Defenseman Morgan Reilly, who led all NHL defensemen with 20 goals a season ago, leads the Maple Leafs with nine assists this season and recorded four against the Wild on Tuesday.
The Maple Leafs had a busy offseason as they acquired defenseman Tyson Barrie, who has recorded four assists and a -2 rating this season, and center Alexander Kerfoot, who has posted two goals, four points, and a +5 rating this year, in a trade from the Colorado Avalanche that sent center Nazem Kadri to the Rockies. To further bolster their blueline, the Maple Leafs added defenseman Cody Ceci, who has recorded a goal, five points, and a +3 rating with the team so far, in a trade with the Ottawa Senators. To add some depth down the middle, the team went out and signed centers Jason Spezza, who has one assist and a -1 rating this season, and Nick Shore, who has recorded a goal and a +2 rating, in free agency. In addition to Kadri, defensemen Jake Gardiner (signed with Carolina Hurricanes), Ron Hainsey (signed with Senators), Calle Rosen (traded to Avalanche), Nikita Zaitsev (traded to Senators), forwards Tyler Ennis (signed with Senators), Patrick Marleau (traded to Hurricanes and signed with San Jose Sharks), Connor Brown (traded to Senators), goaltender Garrett Sparks (traded to Vegas Golden Knights), and assistant coach D.J. Smith (named Senators’ head coach) all left the team over the offseason.
The Maple Leafs are currently tied for third in the NHL with an average of 4.00 goals-per-game but have not done as good of a job keeping the puck out of their net as they have allowed an average of 2.57 goals-per-game. Their average of 35.2 shots-per-game entering Tuesday’s game vs. the Wild was the fifth-most in the league.
Goaltender Frederik Andersen, who is 4-2-0 with a save percentage of .909 and a goals-against-average of 2.69 this season, is expected to start against the Capitals on Wednesday night. In his career against the Capitals, the 30-year old is 5-2-1 with a .913 save percentage, a 2.82 goals-against average, and two shutouts.
The Capitals continue a three-game homestand on Wednesday after falling to the league-leading Colorado Avalanche by a score of 6-3 on Monday evening. Through three games at home, the Capitals have gone winless but earned points in two of those games and led for a majority of them. They have been outscored by a total of 13-8 on home ice this season.
Defenseman John Carlson enters Wednesday’s game against the Maple Leafs with a league-leading nine assists and a team-leading 11 points. The 29-year old is currently riding a four-game point-steak, recording multi-point performances in three of those instances. He posted an assist against the Avalanche on Monday. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who has led the league in goal-scoring in each of the past two seasons, leads the Capitals with five goals and is second with seven points this year. He comes into Wednesday’s contest on a roll as he has four goals in his last three games.
The Capitals look to bounce back after their worst performance of the season so far. After holding opponents to just six goals in their first three games, the Capitals have allowed 17 goals in their last four. However, their 27.1 shots-against per game is still the second-lowest in the league only behind the Philadelphia Flyers (27.1). Defenseman Michal Kempny, who led the Capitals with a +24 rating a season ago and has not played since March 20 after undergoing a procedure on his hamstring, is not quite ready to return to the lineup against the Maple Leafs.
The Capitals are due for some luck soon as their Corsi-for percentage (shots + blocks + misses for versus against) of 53.96% and their scoring chances-for percentage of 55.77% each rank fourth in the NHL. However, their team save percentage of .8873 is currently the seventh-worst in the league. If the Capitals are going to get back on track, their goaltending is going to have to step up.
After goaltender Braden Holtby got pulled and allowed three goals on three shots in the first period against the Avalanche, it would be fair to assume goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who made 19 saves on 21 shots in relief, will start against the Maple Leafs for the first time of his NHL career. The 22-year old is 2-1-0 with a .944 save percentage and a 1.43 goals-against average in his rookie season. Head coach Todd Reirden did not name a starting goalie on Tuesday, though.
* Carlson has led the Capitals in ice time in every game this season; additionally, Carlson ranks fourth in the NHL in average TOI per game (25:45), averaging 2:30 minutes more per game than his cumulative average prior to this season
* Through seven games, the Capitals have allowed 47.06 shot attempts per game, giving them the second- lowest shot attempts against per game rate in the NHL among teams with at least four games played (Florida Panthers: 46.32)
* Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie were reunited as a line in Tuesday’s practice; since Oshie’s arrival in 2015-16, the trio has played 1,437:19 minutes of five-on-five time together, have scored 75 goals while allowing 45, and produced a 50.54 shot attempts percentage (1,406 for, 1,376 against)
By Harrison Brown