Pregame #80: Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Washington Capitals (46-22-11) at Toronto Maple Leafs (37-32-10)
Location: Air Canada Centre
7:00 PM
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Radio: 1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Previous Games:
Nov 3, 2010 TOR@WSH 5-4 W
Dec 6, 2010 TOR@WSH 4-5 SOL
Jan 22, 2011 WSH@TOR 4-1 W
Games Remaining: None
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:
Head Coach Ron Wilson (Head Coach, 1997-2002)
Assistant Coach Tim Hunter (Assistant Coach, 1997-2002)
Assistant Coach Rob Zettler (Defenseman, 1999-2002)
Assistant Coach Keith Acton (Forward, 1993)
Vice President of hockey operations Dave Poulin (Forward, 1993-95)
Know the Enemy:
Our Bloguin Partner Puckin’ Eh, Down Goes Brown, Pension Plan Puppets

The Caps come to Toronto after a week of loosey-goosey hockey that saw them play three straight overtime games, winning 2 of 3 at home.  The team spent a good deal of time reviewing tape to correct some of their mistakes and get back to solid defensive hockey as they head down the home stretch.  The Capitals are tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference at 46-22-11, but the Flyers have one more win that didn’t come in the shootout, giving them the edge. 

The Maple Leafs are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs at this point, but they will still be clawing for a win.  They have won 6 of their last 7 games, and while it won’t be enough to overcome their slow start to the season, it means they are playing well enough to catch the Capitals scoreboard watching, as the Flyers will be playing the Ottawa Senators just 380 km away. 

Injury Report: Capitals’ defensemen Dennis Wideman (hematoma), Mike Green (head) and Tom Poti (groin) are out.  D John Erskine (undisclosed) is expected to return.  D Tyler Sloan (head) left Saturday night’s game early, but is not expected to miss significant time.  RW Alex Semin (undisclosed) sat out practice with a nagging injury. 
-The Leafs are missing LW Colby Armstrong (foot) and LW Colton Orr (concussion). 

Raking Up
See how the Caps will clean up!

Three Things To Watch For:

Captain Clutch:  Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season and the 299th of his career in overtime on Saturday night.  That goal was his league-best 11 game-winner and 3rd overtime game-winner (#2 in the NHL).  If you add in his 3 shootout game-winners (also #2) and 8 game-winning assists, Ovechkin has been a part of 22 of the Caps 44 game-deciding markers this season.  While Ovie’s numbers aren’t nearly as good this year as they have been in seasons past, it is nearly impossible to say he is not the Capitals’ most valuable player.  Look for him to score goal #300 tonight in the place he had his last hat trick.

Go Johnny, Go:  John Carlson keeps racking up the points.  With 2 assists on Saturday, Carlson reached 37 points on the season, the team record for points by a rookie defenseman set by Robert Picard (1977-78) and Greg Theberge (1981-82).  Carlson also matched Jeff Halpern‘s rookie record of +21, set in 1999-00.  Carlson is just 2 assists away from Theberge’s record (32) and just 3 goals from Picard’s record (10), but either way, it has been a season for the history books.  With 5 points in his last 3 games, 2 assists in 3 games against the Leafs this season, he could have another big night.  With more ice time with so many injured defensemen, Carlson might just be able to match those team records, too.  Just keep an eye on the rookie playoff scoring records if he stays hot.

The Kessel Run:   Phil Kessel has been earning his dough recently.  The Leafs are 6-1 in their last 7 games, and Kessel has points in all of them.  He reached the 30-goal plateau for the third straight season on Saturday and is showing no signs of slowing down.  The Caps defense will have their hands full with this speedy winger as he tries to extend his streak to 8.