After suffering another loss to a rival team on Saturday in Montreal, the Toronto Maple Leafs will look to finish October on a high note as they take on the Washington Capitals for the second time this season (7 p.m. ET, TSN4).

A couple of weeks ago, when the Leafs and Caps first played (WSH winning 4-3), we talked about the Caps’ early-season success defensively. Since that game, it’s the offense that has carried the load for Washington. Their win against the Leafs October 16th was the first of a four-game winning streak for them; in total, they’ve gone 4-1 since that game, scoring 24 goals (4.8 GPG) without a regulation loss. There hasn’t been a heavy reliance on the PP either, with four goals on 12 opportunities at 5-on-4.

While their ability to finish has been stellar — their shooting percentage 5-on-5 since the last matchup is 11.9%, good for second in the NHL — the Caps still haven’t controlled shots very well overall. This has become a bit of a theme for Washington in recent years. Their focus centers more around a counter-attack and defensive responsibility over aggressive neutral zone play. Their actual shot and chance numbers offensively have remained average, although it hasn’t hurt them yet. Nevertheless, you can’t expect them to continue shooting nearly 12% and scoring nearly five goals a game without the underlying play to back it up.

Now 13 games into the year, the Leafs will finally welcome back Travis Dermott. Along with the news of Dermott’s return, we’ve also learned that it should take Zach Hyman a little longer than expected to recover from his injury. Babcock revealed this morning that he’s been told Tavares will return before Hyman does.

Regardless of the health of his teammates, tonight is a very timely return for Dermott. While there are gaps in Dermott’s game defensively, as the coach likes to make very clear, his skill set is one that brings a few elements the Leafs lack among their top defensemen. The biggest of these abilities is Dermott’s work defending his blueline. This has been a strength of his throughout his professional career, as his highly-aggressive style defending the rush leads to lots of turnovers and stopping chances against before they start. Per Corey Sznajder’s manually tracked zone entry and exit data, in 600 minutes between 2016-19, Dermott was in the 99th percentile in possession entry percentage allowed (that is, percentage of defended zone entries where possession was allowed). For comparison, the Leafs (current) top four look like this:

  • Rielly — 46th percentile
  • Ceci — 26th percentile
  • Muzzin — 92nd percentile
  • Barrie — 47th percentile

In other news, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin fanned the flames with the Toronto media today by offering some honest thoughts about the Leafs’ play of late and whether they’re ready to win a Cup:

The quotes fall somewhere in between bulletin-board material and actual sincere advice the Leafs should take to heart. It’s not like Ovechkin is speaking as someone who hasn’t been through the exact process he’s describing. He had his physical and defensive games and overall commitment to the team concept questioned for well over a decade before he finally lifted the Cup. Listening to the clips, it does come across as Ovechkin’s honest thoughts on what it takes to win in the league. It might not be the worst thing for the Leafs’ young core to hear.

Game Day Quotes

Travis Dermott on playing with Justin Holl in his return:

Pretty much my whole professional career has been with Holl. Whether he’s my partner or not, he’s always been right there. Hollsy and I are pretty good buddies –been growing the chemistry on and off the ice, a little music stuff going on, too. If I made my comeback with Hollsy, that’d be pretty special for me.

Mike Babcock on Auston Matthews’ progression:

In life, you’ve got to be careful what you ask for. When you’re good, you draw the best matchup. When you’re really good, you get to work in the best league. When you’re really good, you get in situations that are great, but the best of the best want to be in those situations. What I mean by that is, when you have no confidence, you put yourself in 80-20 situations. When you have a ton of confidence, you want to be in those 50/50s and you believe you can disarm the bomb, you believe you can make it happen. That swagger is earned over time.

Babcock on John Carlson:

He’s long. He’s smart. He’s heavy. He shoots it. He’s good without it. He’s good with it — he’s a good player and he plays with good players.

Babcock on Dermott’s return:

Dermy hasn’t played since when? He’s missed all of training camp, you know what I mean? He was injured the second half of last year, even came back in the playoffs and wasn’t healthy. This is a new start for him and we’ve talked to Dermy about that — let’s just get out there and play simple and keep it out of our net, then we’ll build our game as time goes on.

Matchup Stats

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #16 Mitch Marner
#42 Trevor Moore – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #26 Nick Shore

#8 Jake Muzzin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl

#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson

Scratched: Martin Marincin, Nic Petan, Kevin Gravel
Injured: Zach Hyman, John Tavares

PP Units

Marner – Nylander – Matthews

Kerfoot – Moore – Spezza

Washington Capitals Projected Lines

#8 Alex Ovechkin – #19 Nicklas Backstrom – #77 T.J Oshie
#13 Jakub Vrana – #92 Evgeny Kuznetsov – #43 Tom Wilson
#62 Carl Hagelin – #20 Lars Eller – #21 Garnet Hathaway
#28 Brendan Leipsic – #26 Nic Dowd – #72 Travis Boyd

#6 Michal Kempny – #74 John Carlson
#9 Dimitri Orlov – #33 Radko Gudas
#34 Jonas Siegenthaler – #3 Nick Jensen

#37 Brayden Holtby
#30 Ilya Samsonov

Injured: Richard Panik