After a win over Minnesota that hit all the right spots, the Toronto Maple Leafs face a tough back-to-back situation on the road against a 3-2-2 Capitals team tonight in Washington (7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet).
Last night, the Leafs‘ four-goal surge in the second period included two power-play goals, a multi-point period from Mitch Marner, and an even-strength goal from John Tavares. It wasn’t a perfect 60-minute performance by any means, but a better night from the Tavares line, with Trevor Moore swapped onto the left wing in the place of Kasperi Kapanen, and a record-setting four-assist period from Morgan Rielly assuaged a good number of concerns within the fan base.
After a couple of wins over Detroit and Minnesota, the test for the Leafs on the defensive side of the puck should be much stiffer tonight against a deeper forward corps with a much more dangerous power play than either of those teams. A top line of Ovechkin – Backstrom – Oshie obviously poses a major matchup threat at 5v5; the Leafs did not come up with a convincing answer for Steven Stamkos line versus Tampa and will need a better shutdown effort in this one, this time without control over the matchups on the road.
The Capitals have controlled the puck quite well through seven games (CF% ranks third at 53.9%), with the bulk of their success in that metric stemming from their defensive-zone play. They’ve allowed the second-fewest shot attempts against, and while they haven’t been nearly as impressive when you isolate shots from the slot (18th in HighDensityCA/60), their ability to suppress shots and spend less time in their zone has been positive for them in the early going.
Offensively, at 5v5, things haven’t been as bright for Washington, ranking 18th in shot attempts/60 and 10th in xGF/60. They haven’t produced many chances in the slot or created many rebound opportunities, although they have generated quite a bit from the periphery.
Individually, Dimtri Orlov has had the best on-ice results of any Caps player, with his team scoring almost a full goal more per hour while he’s on the ice. Production-wise, captain Alex Ovechkin has once again started the year scoring at his usual Hall-of-Fame rate — he leads the Capitals with five goals, two on the power play and three at evens. John Carlson is their point leader with 11 points thus far, including two goals and five assists at five-on-five. He also leads, unsurprisingly, in overall ice time with an average 25:45 per game.
With the Capitals rested and waiting for the Leafs in Washington — not to mention stewing on a 6-3 loss to Colorado on Monday — it will be a tough test for the Leafs and for goaltender Michael Hutchinson in his second start of the season. The role of backup goaltenders can be brutal and unforgiving, and there is no better example than playing against the 2018 Cup champs on the road with a tired team in front of you. Hutchinson gave up five goals to the Canadiens — four in the third period — in his first start, but he was a sympathetic figure with how badly his team hung him out to dry in the final frame. This is a big game for him early in the year nonetheless.
At the other end of the ice, interestingly, the Capitals are going to give the 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov (2-1, .944) the start tonight over usual workhorse starter Braden Holtby (1-1-2, .846) after Holtby gave up three goals on his first three shots and was chased from the net versus Colorado.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#42 Trevor Moore – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #26 Nick Shore
#8 Jake Muzzin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#52 Martin Marincin – #3 Justin Holl
#30 Michael Hutchinson
#31 Frederik Andersen
Scratched: Kevin Gravel, Jason Spezza, Nic Petan
Injured: Zach Hyman, Travis Dermott
Marner – Tavares – Matthews
Nylander – Moore – Kerfoot
Washington Capitals Projected Lines
#8 Alex Ovechkin – #19 Nicklas Backstrom – #77 T.J Oshie
#62 Carl Hagelin – #92 Evgeny Kuznetsov – #43 Tom Wilson
#13 Jakub Vrana – #20 Lars Eller – #21 Garnet Hathaway
#28 Brendan Leipsic – #18 Chandler Stephenson – #14 Richard Panik
#34 Jonas Siegenthaler – #74 John Carlson
#9 Dimitri Orlov – #33 Radko Gudas
#3 Nick Jensen – #78 Tyler Lewington
#30 Ilya Samsonov
#70 Brayden Holtby
Injured: Michal Kempny