Leafs Prepare for Ovechkin
When Alex Ovechkin comes to town on Saturday, the Maple Leafs know it’s going to be a long evening.
“He’s probably the best scorer of this generation of players,” said winger Matt Martin, quite familiar with battling the Great Eight during more than 20 encounters between the Washington captain and Martin’s old team, the Islanders.
“To go along with that, he has the size and strength to have an impact on the game. When he’s going, he’s very tough to stop. More than anything you try and limit his chances rather than take them all away, he’s so dynamic.
“You have to be physical on him, but he’s not one to shy away from it either. He’s a big body, 240 pounds I think and when he hits, it hurts. But we have to be hard on him.”
Yet there is an element of excitement among Ovechkin’s Russian countrymen on the Leafs, defenceman Nikita Zaitsev and winger Nikita Soshnikov. Zaitsev was Ovie’s teammate at the World Cup, but this will be Soshnikov’s first game in North America facing “a legend”.
“I watched him probably every day as a kid,” Soshnikov added. “I had a (sports) channel, I didn’t watch every NHL game he was in, but tried to watch every highlight. He’s a special player. Every Russian league guy would be excited to play against him.”
The Leafs will get the Caps in their third game in four nights after a Black Friday afternoon home date versus Buffalo. What was a promising month of November for Toronto is coming to a close with three one-goal losses entering Saturday. But earning 20 points in 20 games to reach the quarter pole of the season has drawn lots of positives for head coach Mike Babcock.
“We’ve managed ourselves into losses instead of victories, just by our (inability) to take care of the puck a little bit,” Babcock said. “We’ve got a little better, but we have a long way to go. We have to do a better job when we’re ahead.”
Frederik Andersen gets the start in goal Saturday after a night off in the shootout loss in Jersey. As part of a continuing lineup tweak, Connor Brown was practicing with Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman, which Babcock likes for defensive purposes on the road when he’s without the last line change. When that happens, William Nylander plays with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov.
“We want everyone to be competitive, that’s the bottom line,” Babcock said.