The Capitals take the ice Tuesday night at the Capital One Arena against Atlantic Division’s leader the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Capitals last met the Leafs during a hard fought first round playoff series where the Capitals bested the Leafs in four of six games with only Game 4 finalized during regulation play. During the series, the Leafs repeatedly demonstrated their speed, agility and ability to score – without intimidation by seasoned veteran teams like the Capitals.
Tuesday night’s game is the first of three match ups between the rivals and both teams have scores to settle. The advantages and challenges the Capitals face to win this game.
The Caps Advantages
- Alex Ovechkin is Red Hot — That’s right, with nine goals in six games the Captain is back and he has started the 2017 season with a vengeance. He’s leading the league in goals and is on pace (yes, we know it’s early) for a 50+ goal season. He achieved First Star of the Week honors after the opening week when he scored hat tricks in back to back games. In short, Ovechkin is playing heads up, aggressive hockey and has scored more personal goals this season than the Oilers, Sharks, Habs and Hurricanes – God help Nazem Kadri.
- A Triple Threat, League Leading Offense – So it’s not just Ovechkin who’s coming in hot – Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are also league leaders – tied with 11 total points. Kuzy’s stick and skills have proven lethal with 11 assists – five in the past six games — catapulting him to the top of the League. Overall, Kuznetsov has 140 career assists putting him at 16th overall in the NHL. This Capitals offensive trifecta will prove provide a formidable force against the Maple Leafs ’weak defense. The Capitals are only the 10th team in league history to have three players with 10+ points through five games.
- The Marlies Goalie is Slumping – It’s true, with a .861 save percentage the Maple Leaf’s goalie is the second worst in the league making him an easy mark for the offensively strong Caps.
- Braden Holtby – period. – Holtby, as usual, is standing strong and protecting the crease. He has a .923 save percentage and his stalwart, in net presence continues to protect the Capitals even with a weakened blue line.
- Youth and Speed and the Maple Leafs are just teeming with both. Auston Matthews, Calder Trophy Winner and future superstar managed to post four goals and one assist against the Capitals in last year’s playoffs. Matthews has continued to dominate teams offensively this season along with teammates Kadri, who finished last year with 30+ goals and James van Riemsdyk who notched 29. The Capitals must work to catch and shut down these offensive powerhouses to defeat the Leafs.
- Misfiring Capitals Defense – Significantly weakened before Matt Niskanen’s ill-fated injury against the Devil’s on Friday, the Capitals must find a way to retool its blue line to be effective against the offensive onslaught that the Marlies will certainly unleash Tuesday night. Niskanen’s untimely 10 game exit means that three of the defensive line have fewer than 50 games between them causing an overreliance on John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov and that’s a heavy yoke for the three veteran blueliners to carry.
- Lack of Offensive Depth – The Capitals lack offensive depth – a problem that is further exacerbated by Lars Eller’s questionable ability to start Tuesday night. While the Capitals are leading the league in scoring, there is a lack of production from the bottom six. In fact, Mike Vogel reports in Dump n’ Chase that scoring production has come from 13 different Leafs seven for the Capitals and 12 Marlies have at least three points where only six Capitals players can make the same claim.
With last season’s playoffs as the marker, Tuesday night’s contest with the Maple Leafs will prove an exciting matchup between a veteran team and the surging, up and coming Leafs. Puck drop is at 7 pm ET at the Capital One Arena.