After strong first halfs to their respective seasons, both the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs are suddenly finding wins hard to come by entering tonight’s matchup at Scotiabank Arena (7:30 p.m, Sportsnet).
Despite winning just three of their last ten — the same recent form as the Leafs — the Capitals remain second place in the Metropolitan Division, but the losses are creeping up on them at the moment. For the most part, they had it coming as arguably the league’s most “overperforming” team this season based on their ownership share of the shots and chance this season.
This season, Washington owns the biggest positive gap between their goals scored and their expected goals. At 5-on-5, they’ve been averaging 2.4 expected goals per 60 minutes, while scoring at a rate of 3.02 goals per 60 minutes. They’ve been the anti-Carolina, who rank highest in the league in expected goals but are below average in goals per 60 (3.02 xG/60 vs. 2.2 G/60).
On an individual level, T.J Oshie and Alex Ovechkin are hot of late with 10 points in as many games, with Oshie driving the bus at 5-v-5 with eight points. Last night, the Capitals lost a wild one to San Jose in OT by a 7-6 in which Ovechkin scored a hat trick and added an assist while playing a high for forwards at 20:30. Brayden Holtby started both last night’s game and in their previous 8-5 loss to Chicago, where he gave up four goals on 11 shots, and we’ll have to wait and see if it’s him or Pheonix Copley starting for the Capitals closer to game time. The Leafs will be hoping the Caps tired themselves out and scored all their goals for the week in a hectic extra-time game last night.
Though Andreas Johnsson is skating with the team — a good sign after being diagnosed with a concussion two games ago — he won’t play tonight. Trevor Moore is up as a replacement and is expected to play on the right side with Frederik Gauthier and Par Lindholm.
The biggest Leafs lineup news is Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner playing on a line together, at least to start the game. We’ve seen it in bits and pieces with John Tavares on the other side lately after penalty kills, but the two have never taken a regular 5v5 shift together due to Babcock’s emphasis on the pair learning to drive their own lines since they broke the league at the same time. The Leafs have scored 10 goals in their last four games and have put just 98 shots on goal (24.5 per game) over that time, so the decision to finally try out their two most dynamic offensive talents on a line together speaks to Babcock’s urgency about finding a spark up front.
They’re not in top form and are tired in a back-to-back, but the Stanley Cup champions coming to town is always plenty of reason to get up for a game and the Leafs need to start turning things around on home ice, where they’ve lost six of their last seven. It’s way too early to panic, but the team needs to start showing a sense of urgency here soon, with the final wildcard team now just two points behind them in the standings.
Game Day Quotes
Auston Matthews on getting the opportunity to play with Mitch Marner:
We’re obviously excited to play with one another. Hopefully, we complement each other well. We obviously have a good relationship off the ice — all three of us do. For us, we just want to have fun out there and compete, play hard, create offense, and score some goals.
Mike Babcock on the test for his team tonight:
Playing without the puck will be real important for us tonight. I don’t know how many guys dialled into the game last night, but some of their players that hadn’t been scoring got scoring. That’s what it’s like — you get adrenaline and you get playing fast. We’re going into some time off, so you want to leave feeling good about yourself. When you do good things and good things don’t happen to you necessarily, you’ve still got that negative taste in your mouth. You want to leave with a positive taste.
Babcock on Matthews playing with Marner:
I think the biggest thing is you’ve to be real good without [the puck]. Tavares has done an unbelievable job for us since he’s come on, so what we’re doing is setting him up in a different situation and giving Matty a different opportunity. We need those guys to be good every night. Both of them are capable of driving a line. We need them both to drive a line. But right now we’re going to do this to get ourselves going.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#28 Connor Brown – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #42 Trevor Moore
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Tyler Ennis (broken ankle), Andreas Johnsson (concussion), Jake Gardiner (back spasms)
Scratched: Justin Holl
Washington Capitals Projected Lines
#8 Alex Ovechkin – #19 Nicklas Backstrom – #77 T.J Oshie
#13 Jakub Vrana – #92 Evgeny Kuznetsov – #43 Tom Wilson
#23 Dmitrij Jaskin – #20 Lars Eller – #10 Brett Connolly
#18 Chandler Stephenson – #72 Travis Boyd – #65 Andre Burakovsky
#9 Dmitri Orlov – #74 John Carlson
#6 Michal Kempny – #2 Matt Niskanen
#44 Brooks Orpik – #34 Jonas Siegenthaler
#70 Braden Holtby
#1 Pheonix Copley
Injured: Christian Djoos