This Sunday matinee in Washington will be the final of three meetings with the Capitals this season. The first was a game the Maple Leafs won that they probably shouldn’t have back on November 23 (2-1 shootout win), and the second was a game they lost but probably should’ve won. The January 10th 3-2 defeat to the Capitals in Washington was tabbed as the kind of “good loss” many teams need to experience before breaking out of a extended losing streak. So it was, as the Leafs have won 15 of 22 since, including a six-game winning streak following that game.
James Reimer will start while Jonathan Bernier nurses an undisclosed lower-body injury. “Thank God we have two starting-quality goaltenders, for when our first starter goes down with an injury at the most crucial time of the season,” said everyone who wanted to trade Reimer months ago.
Last time out versus the Capitals, Reimer stopped 49 of 50 shots against and all three shots faced in the shootout in likely his best 60-minute performance of the season. This will represent the first games he’s played in consecutively since late January when he came in for Bernier in the Dallas blowout and started the next game versus Winnipeg. The Leafs will need him to relish this opportunity. Great goaltending is obviously nothing but a major asset to an NHL team; that said, there’s few teams that rely on theirs as heavily as the Maple Leafs.
Dion Phaneuf has been hit by the flu bug but one imagines he soldiers through, knowing Dion’s history.
The Caps lineup has undergone some changes since the Leafs last saw it a month ago. Jaroslav Halak is now in net. Dustin Penner, added at the deadline, is expected to play on line four with Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson. Evgeni Kutznetsov has crossed the pond from the K and put up three assists in his first game on Friday night. He’s expected to play next to centerman Casey Wellman (emergency recall from Hershey) and Troy Brouwer. Mikhail Grabovski has been out injured since the 50-game mark.
The Capitals have lost five of their last seven; the Leafs are winners of four of their last five, with all wins coming over playoff opponents. This is a chance for the Leafs to help bury the Capitals’ playoff hopes and further solidify their own.