The Maple Leafs will celebrate John Tavares’ 1,000th NHL game as they host the Capitals for a rare Sunday evening showdown at Scotiabank Arena (5 p.m. EST, TSN4).
The first couple of meetings between Washington and Toronto have been physical games, with the Capitals throwing 35 recorded hits in each of the two games, and that is without Tom Wilson in the lineup. Washington’s average in hits per game is 25 and the league median is 23 per game. Watching those matchups, the Caps seemingly make a point of emphasis with it against the Leafs, which is perhaps why Sheldon Keefe appears — based on the practice lines yesterday — to be inserting Wayne Simmonds on the fourth line for today’s game, with Bobby McMann returning to the Marlies today (zero points in eight games, minus-three, 17 shots on goal).
The Leafs have opted to keep Joey Anderson on the roster over McMann for the time being. Anderson has just six shots on goal in nine games, but he has scored twice — including the 1-1 goal in Friday’s game against Ottawa — and picked up an assist. Anderson will be playing his final game before his waiver eligibility returns should he dress on Wednesday vs. Boston.
The Leafs are also expected to insert veteran defenseman TJ Brodie into the lineup after a three-week absence due to a rib injury. With a constant shuffle happening on the defense pairings between and during games, assistant coach Dean Chynoweth will be hoping Brodie’s reliable presence and chemistry with Morgan Rielly help settle the overall unit into place with three pairings that have proven success together: Rielly – Brodie / Giordano – Holl / Sandin – Liljegren.
The Capitals won nine of 10 prior to defenseman John Carlson’s scary injury (a puck to the side of the head) just before Christmas, with a 5-2 win over the Leafs among those victories. They have won just seven of 14 since without their high-scoring, 23.5-minute/game defenseman in the lineup. They’re also currently without Wilson, who returned in the new year after recovering from knee surgery but lasted just eight games before returning to the injured list due to a blocked shot against the Avalanche.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper has returned from injury since the last time the Leafs and Capitals met and has consistently been giving the Capitals a chance to win with a .919 save percentage over his last 13 starts, a span that includes three shutouts (tops in the league among NHL goalies since the holiday break).
In Toronto’s crease, Ilya Samsonov will keep running with the ball after the latest injury to Matt Murray (ankle) held him out of Friday’s 6-2 loss to Ottawa. The Leafs have recalled Joe Woll, who is enjoying a massive season with the Marlies to date (12-1-0, .928 save percentage), to serve as Samsonov’s backup.
In need of a bounce-back effort coming off of that lopsided loss to the Senators and with Tavares celebrating a significant career milestone, nothing short of a big response will be expected out of the Leafs today.
Head to Head: Leafs vs. Capitals
In the season-to-date statistics, the Maple Leafs hold the advantage over the Capitals in three out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge against the Capitals:
It is a deep team. Certainly, through their forward group, there is lots of experience. We saw them at their best when we were out at Washington and see what they are capable of in terms of their forecheck and pressure and some of the skill that they have to make plays.
Because of that, we know exactly what we are in for in terms of the quality of the opponent and the competition that they will bring tonight. We are going to have to be ready for the physicality, their forecheck, and all of that kind of stuff.
John Tavares on reaching the 1,000-game milestone:
It is a tremendous honour. It is hard to put into words. I think I just have a lot of gratitude. I am very grateful for the opportunity and the so many people who helped me get here playing for two great organizations that have had a lot of belief in me over my career.
I am thrilled about it and excited about it. There will be some differences to it, but I want to treat it the same. It is an important game for us. I am excited about it. It is a special honour.
Mitch Marner on Tavares receiving the 1,000-game silver stick:
A great accomplishment for a great human being. He means a lot to this community. It is going to be a great experience. It is an unreal accomplishment that he should be very proud of. It is going to be a great night just to experience it with him.
Keefe on Tavares’ 1,000-game achievement:
Tremendous night for him. You want him to enjoy it — him, his family, and his friends. It is a tremendous milestone and a tribute to the hard work and commitment that he has put in. He has many more games ahead, but certainly, for a day, pause and think about what you’ve been through to get to this point.
To play one game in the NHL is something, but to play 1,000 at the level he has is pretty remarkable.
Keefe on the return of TJ Brodie to the lineup:
He increases our depth greatly and is a vital piece of our defense core. It slots everybody else in well. It allows us to spread out the minutes. He will be a welcomed addition, of course.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#19 Calle Järnkrok – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kämpf – #28 Joey Anderson
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll
Extras: Jordie Benn, Conor Timmins
Injured: Matt Murray, Auston Matthews, Nick Robertson, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete
Washington Capitals Projected Lines
#8 Alex Ovechkin – #17 Dylan Strome – #77 T.J Oshie
#73 Conor Sheary – #92 Evgeny Kuznetsov – #39 Anthony Mantha
#15 Sonny Milano – #19 Nicklas Backstrom – #90 Marcus Johansson
#96 Nicolas Aube-Kubel – #20 Lars Eller – #21 Garnet Hathaway
#56 Erik Gustafsson – #57 Trevor Van Riemsdyk
#9 Dmitry Orlov – #3 Nick Jensen
#52 Matt Irwin – #42 Martin Fehervary
Starter: #35 Darcy Kuemper
#79 Charlie Lindgren
Injured: Carl Hagelin, Tom Wilson, Connor Brown, Nic Dowd, John Carlson