MAPLE LEAFS (17-12-7) at CAPITALS (22-9-5)
7:00 pm (TSN 4)
The excitement around the Toronto Maple Leafs is at its peak following the emotional overtime win at BMO Field with Auston Matthews scoring the goal in overtime to secure the much important second point. Now that the excitement around the 2017 NHL Centennial Classic is over and done with, Mike Babcock can have his team move on to the next segment of the season. The beginning of January is a very important stretch for the Leafs, beginning with a battle with one of the league’s best teams in the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals are coming off a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on New Years Day and are looking to make it three wins in a row tonight at the Verizon Center. Currently sitting in sole possession of the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Captials are hunting down the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and the red hot Columbus Blue Jackets for a top three position in the Metropolitan Division and they hope to inch one step closer to doing so with Braden Holtby between the pipes tonight. Holtby is again one of the league’s toughest goaltenders to beat and is sporting a 16-8-4 record with a 1.98 goals against average coupled with a .929 save percentage in 2016-2017.
Washington is tied for first in the league with the least goals allowed, making it a great task for rookies like Marner, Matthews, Nylander and Brown who have been lightning the lamp quite often in the last couple of weeks, highlighted by 19- year- old Auston Matthews three- game goal streak and tallying eight goals in his last 10 games.
Toronto is expected to start Frederick Andersen and will look to continue his outstanding play against one of the league’s most potent goal scorers in Alexander Ovechkin, not to mention some of the best offensive players in the game like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin usually brings his best game when taking on the Maple Leafs, coming as no surprise. Ovechkin has put up 32 goals and 58 points in 40 career games against Toronto and it’s safe to say that the 31- year- old welcomes the Maple Leafs to town with open arms. But, as we all know, things are changing in Toronto.
Tonight will be another massive measuring stick game for the youngest team in the National Hockey League and I have a feeling that with the momentum Toronto is currently riding through, thanks to great play from their younger players and goaltender, the story will be a different one than we have seen in the past.
Game prediction: Toronto 4 Washington 3
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Hyman — Matthews — Brown
Komarov — Kadri — Nylander
Martin — Gauthier — Soshnikov
Rielly — Zaitsev
Gardiner — Carrick
Hunwick — Polak
Ovechkin — Backstrom — Oshie
Johansen — Kuznetsov — Williams
Connolly — Eller — Burakovsky
Winnik — Beagle — Wilson
Alzner — Carlson
Orlov — Niskanen
Orpik — Chorney
Mike Babcock — Morning Skate — 01/03/2017