The surging Capitals come to town at a time when the Maple Leafs are seeking a response after one of their leakiest defensive performances of the season against New Jersey (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario).

Auston Matthews is considered a game-time decision with what Sheldon Keefe described as not a flu-related illness, but based on the morning skate lines, it appears as though the coaching staff is planning on the league’s leading goal scorer featuring tonight. They lined up with Max Domi at center and Mitch Marner on his right wing while leaving the other three lines the same as in the loss to New Jersey (besides a Ryan Reaves for Noah Gregor swap), but Marner won’t return yet tonight. It would seem to indicate they’re viewing Matthews as likely to suit up in his spot between Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi, but it remains to be seen how Matthews is feeling at game time.

So far this season, the Maple Leafs are 7-3-0 when they concede five or more in a loss as they did on Tuesday against New Jersey. They’re facing a streaking opponent in the Capitals (three wins in a row), who are not only fighting for their playoff lives but are looking to avenge last week’s 7-3 loss to Toronto at home and are rolling on the power play (33% in their last 25, first in the NHL since Feb. 1). Add in the persistent injuries and illnesses affecting the Leafs‘ lineup, and this will be another stiff challenge against a desperate opponent, one that will require a lot more detail in Leafs‘ game than was on display on Tuesday night against the Devils.

With two straight losses for Toronto and Tampa Bay currently surging (8-1-1 L10), the Leafs are much closer to a wildcard spot than home-ice advantage right now, and the runway to make up ground is getting shorter and shorter. No shortage of reasons for the urgency level, discipline, and attention to detail to be high tonight, no matter who is in or out of the lineup.

Game Day Quotes

Max Domi on the need for a response after a tough loss to New Jersey:

We are looking forward to the opportunity to bounce back. I think we have done a good job all year of not letting a not-so-great game slip into two. We are looking forward to the opportunity to do that. We are going to need everyone.

Jake McCabe on the process of bouncing back from the loss to the Devils:

It is pretty clear on video whenever you have breakdowns whether it is on the forecheck or in the d-zone coverage. Those are things that are easy to clean up. I expect that we will clean it up tonight.

McCabe on the injuries and illnesses continuing to persist throughout the team:

Guys have done a good job of stepping in throughout the lineup. We have been rotating a lot on the backend with a lot of guys in and out as well as up front with injuries and illness. Some of our best games this year, frankly, have been when we are shorthanded. It is a good sign.

Domi on the photo of Alex Ovechkin boarding the team plane with a Subway sandwich and a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos: 

Whatever works, man. It’s working for him. I’m sure he’ll keep doing whatever he’s doing.

Sheldon Keefe on the team’s 7-3 win over Washington last week:

I thought we played hard, competed hard, and played through pressure. Washington came hard as well, and we played through that. I thought our best players were dominant. All of those things contributed to a good win.

Keefe on the Capitals turning it around under head coach Spencer Carbery:

Over the last couple of months, they have been excellent, but throughout the season, there have been a few key points where it looked like maybe it was going to go the wrong way. They have come back in a big way and sustained it. The power play, over the last 25 games, has been the best in the NHL. They have a lot of good things going for them.

I am thrilled for him. He’s done a terrific job. The players have responded after some personnel changes throughout the season. Younger players have gotten more of an opportunity. They are quicker, and there is a little more pop to what they are doing.

Keefe on the keys to quieting the Capitals’ red-hot power play led by Alex Ovechkin:

Try to minimize the time we spend in our own zone. That is a big one. Get as many clears as we can and be clean coming out. Recognize our triggers and pressures.

Normally, the one-timer becomes most available when you have breakdowns in other places that force you to overreact. It then becomes available on the backside.

That is really it. We will try to limit those mistakes and breakdowns and stay out of the box as best we can. Whether it is a one-timer or not, their whole group is going right now. They are the best in the NHL in the past 25 games, and he is a huge part of their success or surge.

We are going to have to manage that by staying out of the box and then accepting the challenge and getting it done.

Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Capitals

In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Capitals in five out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #34 Auston Matthews* – #11 Max Domi
#74 Bobby McMann – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#23 Matthew Knies – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #89 Nick Robertson
#24 Connor Dewar – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves

#2 Simon Benoit – #22 Jake McCabe
#78 TJ Brodie – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#55 Mark Giordano – #25 Conor Timmins

Starter: #60 Joseph Woll
#35 Ilya Samsonov

*Game-time Decision: Auston Matthews
Scratched: Noah Gregor, Martin Jones
Injured/Out: Morgan Rielly, Joel Edmundson, Mitch Marner, Calle Jarnkrok, Timothy Liljegren

Washington Capitals Projected Lines

#8 Alex Ovechkin – #24 Connor McMichael – #77 TJ Oshie
#67 Max Pacioretty – #17 Dylan Strome – #63 Ivan Miroshnichenko
#23 Michael Sgarbossa– #29 Hendrix Lapierre – #21 Aliaksei Protas
#47 Beck Malenstyn – #26 Nic Dowd – #96 Nicolas Aube-Kubel

#42 Martin Fehervary – #74 John Carlson
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #3 Nick Jensen
#27 Alexander Alexeyev – #57 Trevor van Riemsdyk

Starter: #79 Charlie Lindgren
#35 Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Nicklas Backstrom, Sonny Milano
Suspended: Tom Wilson