Pregame #18: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs

Washington Capitals (10-6-1) at Toronto Maple Leafs (10-7-2)
Air Canada Centre
Time:  7:00 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), CBC
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Games Remaining:
Dec  9, 2011 TOR@WAS, 7:00 PM
Feb 25, 2012 WAS@TOR, 7:00 PM
Mar 11, 2012 TOR@WAS, 5:00 PM
Familiar Faces of Former Caps:  C David Steckel (291 GP, 2005-2011), Head Coach Ron Wilson (Head Coach 1997-2002), Assistant Coach Rob Zettler (90 GP, 1999-2002)
Our Bloguin Partner: Puckin’ Eh
More Excellent Leafs Coverage: Down Goes Brown, Pension Plan Puppets

Read On!

While still tied atop the Southeast Division standings, The Washington Capitals have been bad the past few weeks, and it has definitely been for lack of trying. The Capitals haven’t been bad for entire hockey games, but they have been bad long enough to lose them.  They played a great game in Nashville and promptly blew the lead while they were busy patting themselves on the back.  They got an early lead in Winnipeg and mailed in the rest of the game, ironically against what they saw as an easy opponent.  The Capitals have several issues, not least of which is an identity crisis, and Down Goes Brown opines about a possible rift forming between Coach Bruce Boudreau and Alexander Ovechkin.  Ultimately, many of these players need to start showing up to work. This is, after all, their job, and even the lowest paid player on the team gets paid handsomely for playing a kid’s game for a living.  As Caps fans, we used to take pride in being the only winning team in DC for the past 5 years.  Where is that pride on the ice?

While still tied atop the Northeast Division standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t doing any better over the past 6 games.  They have gone 1-4-1, have been outscored 25-8, and their lone win came in the shootout.  The Leafs, though, have an excuse (and being mediocre since the Sundin Administration ain’t it).  As only Pension Plan Puppets can put it, “the injuries are piling up: Mikhail Grabovski is out at least a month, James Reimer has been out for more than the three days he was supposed to be, Clarke MacArthur has a mystery injury, Matthew Lombardi took a face-off and his arm fell off, and Mike Komisarek angered the hockey gods by playing well and was promptly smited.” While the Leafs are dealing with these injury issues, they are looking over their shoulders at the rest of the division, who are gamely keeping themselves in the race: all 5 teams are within 3 points of each other.  The Leafs also had a strong showing against the Nashville Predators in their last game and came up empty, which has to be an emotional let-down.  This is as vulnerable an opponent as the Caps will face this season.  If they can’t get the job done tonight with a nearly complete lineup, major changes could be in the works. 

Injury Report:   Capitals’ D Mike Green (groin) and RW Jay Beagle (head) are out.
-For the Maple Leafs, G James Reimer (concussion), C Mikhail Grabovski (lower body), and RW Colby Armstrong (ankle) are out.  C Matthew Lombardi (shoulder), D Mike Komisarek (arm), RW Colton Orr (flu), and LW Clarke MacArthur (upper body) are day-to-day.

Three Things To Watch For:

The Kessel Run:  There will be some entertaining hockey tonight in Toronto, and it should be supplied by the league’s leading scorer, RW Phil Kessel.  The man who the Caps passed over in 2006 to take Nicklas Backstrom has had a blazing-hot start to the season and has led the league in goals and points fairly steadily from the start.  He is also the Leafs’ only real offensive threat any more with the rest of the offense on IR.  The cancer-survivor has 13 goals and 25 points on the season, and has 3 of the Leafs’ 8 goals over the past 6 games.  Coach Ron Wilson hasn’t been afraid to ramp up his ice time in the face of injuries, as Kessel’s minutes have risen from 19:50 to 20:42 to 26:32 to 27:07 over the past 4 games.  Look to see another heavy dose of the speedy winger tonight. 

Leaf-Blower:  Despite his recent struggles, RW Alexander Ovechkin has been a monster in Toronto throughout his career.  In 12 career games on the Leafs’ home ice, Alexander Ovechkin has scored in 10 of them, posting 14 goals and 18 points, including a hat trick in January.  If there is anything that can break Ovie out of a slump, it’s getting amped up to play in front of the Toronto fans.  Here’s hoping Ovechkin can lead (finally) his team to victory tonight. 

Miss me yet?:  Capitals’ General Manager George McPhee made a shrewd business decision in February to trade away C David Steckel for C Jason Arnott.  While Arnott filled a need and helped the Caps get to the second round of the playoffs, in retrospect giving up Steckel might not have been the best idea.  A 6′ 6, 215-pound faceoff ace, Steckel was acquired by the Maple Leafs before the season to fill a definite need, as the other 3 Leafs centers averaged 190 lbs and 48% on faceoffs. Steckel has delivered, winning a league-leading 61.7% of his team-leading 332 faceoffs.  He has also supplied some offense, potting 3 goals on the season, which is two more than Caps C Jeff Halpern.  The Ohio State grad is also leading Leafs in hits (44) and leads Leafs’ forwards in shorthanded ice time at 2:47 per game and blocked shots (20).  Steckel’s role stands to increase dramatically if the Leafs’ #2 and #3 centers miss any length of time, perhaps the Milwaukee native will finally get the chance to produce the offense that made him a first-round pick in 2001.