Game Day: Maple Leafs at Capitals
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS at WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Verizon Center
TV: TSN4; Radio: 1050 AM
THE BIG MATCHUP
Auston Matthews vs. Alex Ovechkin
It’s not a matchup in the true sense, but observers usually can’t take their eyes off either whenever Matthews or Ovechkin goes over the boards. Matthews is one of several who represent the influx of youthful enthusiasm the NHL is experiencing; at 31, Ovechkin remains a force. Both are capable of jaw-dropping fireworks.
FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
Okay, so we’re not going to assume the Maple Leafs put a complete clamp on Alex Ovechkin. That has not happened much in the past, as Ovechkin has 58 points (32 goals and 26 assists) against the Leafs in 40 games. Leafs defenders (looking at you, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev) will have to be more alert than usual. Ovechkin, meanwhile, is six points from 1,000 in his NHL career.
The Caps are among the stingiest teams in the league, as they have allowed an average of 2.06 goals a game, tied with Minnesota for the fewest. That should represent a challenge for Auston Matthews, but who knows? Matthews has 133 shots on goal, third in the NHL, and has scored 14 goals in his past 17 games. In their previous meeting, Matthews had the winner against Washington on Nov. 26.
Try to be very special
It appears the Leafs are going to have to be pinpoint perfect if they go on the power play, as the Capitals have gone seven games in a row without allowing a power-play goal (28-for-28). The Leafs have been tinkering with their power-play units, as Nazem Kadri has been seeing more time with the top group. At a success rate of 26.4%, the Leafs had the fourth-best road power play in the NHL.
The Leafs were among the top 10 teams in the NHL in blocked shots before games on Monday — they had blocked 289 shots, good for eighth — and it’s probably going to be paramount on Tuesday. In their past two games, the Capitals have eight even-strength goals, with five of them originating on plays by defencemen. The Leafs would be wise to keep sacrificing themselves.
Ignore the past
The Leafs have not done well recently when the opponent has been the Capitals, though they beat the Caps 4-2 in Toronto in November. That has been it lately, as Washington has won five of its past six against the Leafs and is 8-2-1 in the past 11 meetings between the two clubs. This Leafs group, however, has won five in a row on the road and is looking to build off an emotional outdoor win on Sunday.
LEAFS — PP 19.6% (12th), PK 85.2% (6th)
CAPITALS — PP 16.7% (18th), PK 87.3% (2nd)
LEAFS — C Ben Smith (upper body), D Martin Marincin (lower body).
CAPITALS — None.