CAPITALS (13-5-2) at MAPLE LEAFS (8-8-4)
7:00 pm (HNIC – SportsNet)
Tonight, fans at the ACC will bear witness to one superstar about to enter the twilight of his career while also cheering on a few Leaf youngsters. Washington will try to capitalize on the youth and inexperience of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There is no surprise that Alex Ovechkin is once again among league leaders in goals scored with 12 in 19 games. This puts the great 8 on par with his performance last season and most other seasons of eclipsing 50 goals.
With the recent Hockey Hall of Fame ceremony and with Ovechkin closer to the end of his career than the beginning, the discussion has started if he is HHOF worthy. At 31 years of age and a contract that does not expire until the summer of 2021 it is hard to believe.
Washington is coming off a 3-1 win Friday night against the struggling Buffalo Sabres moving them one point ahead of Pittsburgh and into second place in the Metropolitan Division. Perhaps road weary legs will end up being an advantage for the speedy Leaf players.
It appears Washington will be without the services of TJ Oshie for the fourth consecutive game having suffered an upper body injury.
The Capitals are 6-3-1 over the past their past 10 and have won 2 in a row prior to tonight’s contest.
The Leafs are entering tonight’s contest having lost 3 consecutive games and sitting 4 points out of a playoff spot. Yes, many in Leafs nation are pointing towards the playoffs as the rebuild continues.
An informal Twitter poll earlier this week indicated that 62% feel that the Leafs should make a push for the playoffs this season. While the Leafs are definitely trending upwards the remaining 38% feel either higher draft position is more important or have taken a wait and see approach.
Austin Matthews ended his 13 game goal-less streak last game with a couple of goals and 3 points. One could see over the past few games that he was about to break the streak with the hard work and scoring chances he had been receiving.
Mitch Marner continues to impress. It seems the right-winger has been able to adapt his game to the NHL level despite being one of the smaller players in the league. Many players of Marner’s stature are making significant contributions to their respective clubs. GM’s are not so shy about using high draft picks to draft small, speedy and skilled forwards.
William Nylander is carving out a bit of a niche as a power play specialist. Currently with 9 power-play points has put him among league leaders.
Overall there has been significant progress on this Leafs roster. It is becoming clear that the Leafs could soon be branded a high octane offense team that is now sitting third overall in goals for.
The Achilles heel of this team continues to be goals against. Defensively the Leaf players are learning the possession game. This is where veteran teams are able to take advantage of the young Leaf players as was demonstrated on Wednesday night against New Jersey.
The Leaf players entered the second period of that game with a 3-0 lead only to lose 5-4 in a shootout. There was little to celebrate for gaining a single point that night. Defending a lead is one of many lessons to be taken away from this season so far.
Tonight will be another test for the home team. Playing a well established foe with a stingy defense and a player that is able to destroy goalies with deadly shooting is going to be a challenge.
A challenge that will go a long way to determine if the Leafs aspirations for a post-season appearance are realistic. Perhaps another year of pain is a better route to help build depth on the road to the Stanley Cup.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
Hyman — Matthews — Nylander
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Komarov — Kadri — Brown
Martin — Smith — Soshnikov
Rielly — Zaitsev
Hunwick — Polak
Gardiner — Carrick
Ovechkin — Kusnetsov — Burakovsky
Johansson — Backstrom — Williams
Sanford — Beagle — Wilson
Winnick — Eller — Connolly
Alzner — Niskanen
Orlov — Carlson
Chorney — Orpik
Mike Babcock — Morning Skate — 11/26/2016