Game Preview #29 - Capitals vs Leafs

 

In the nation's capital tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs (15-10-3) will take on the Washington Capitals (14-12-1) in a not so rare Friday night game. Heading into this game one team has had a strong start to the season, entrenched solidly in the Eastern Conference playoffs. This team is paced by a top ten NHL offense (6th overall with an average of 3.07 goals per game), and their top sniper is sitting amongst the lead leaders (2nd overall) in scoring. On the other hand the other team taking part in tonight's game has sputtered all season, and is currently on the outside of the playoff scene looking in. They are onto their second coach of the season, and their top sniper has had a dormant and frustrating opening to this year. Quick, before this season began how many of you would have guessed that the successful team is the Phil Kessel led Toronto Maple Leafs, while the struggling team is the Alex Ovechkin led Washington Capitals?

The Leafs tonight will look to continue their strong play on the road where they have a modest three game winning streak. Toronto currently sits tied for third in the NHL with nine road wins so far this year. Coming off a frustrating overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, the buds will be hungry to get back to their winning ways against an in flux Capitals squad. It hasn't been announced who will start in goal tonight, but my money is on James Reimer getting the nod.

Inspirational and physical leader Colby Armstrong is expected back in the lineup for the first time since an October 19 win. Armstrong has missed the last 24 games with a slow healing ankle injury. A well liked veteran on the Leafs team, look for Armstrong to provide some much needed grit and sandpaper to the forwards group. Clarke MacArthur will also return having missed Tuesday's game with a sore shoulder. Top prospect Joe Colborne was returned to the Toronto Marlies to make room for Armstrong's return.

The Capitals won an important game on Wednesday night in Ottawa considering the Senators are the team the Capitals are chasing down for the last playoff spot in the East. Ovechkin had an interesting game that night spearing Chris Neil in a rude area before scoring a beautiful goal. Ovechkin's goal that night reminds the league just how fantastic a talent he is. Hopefully the 'Great 8" doesn't hit his stride tonight. The Capitals will try to avenge an ugly 7-1 loss that the Leafs handed them two weeks ago, so look for an intense and strong start from coach Dale Hunter's men.

Lineups

Leafs

Forwards

Lupul - Bozak - Kessel
Kulemin - Grabovski - Frattin
Armstrong - Connolly - MacArthur
Crabb - Steckel - Dupuis

Defense

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Gardiner  - Schenn
Liles - Franson

Goalies

Reimer
Gustavsson

Capitals

Forwards

Ovechking - Backstrom - Semin
Brouwer - Johansson - Halpern
Chimera - Laich - Ward
Eakin - Perrault - Knuble

Defense

Alzner - Carlson
Erskine - Wideman
Hamrlik - Orlov

Goalies

Vokoun
Neuvirth

Players to Watch

Leafs: Luke Schenn - The resurgent Leafs defenseman has turned his season around of late. Paired with rookie Jake Gardiner, the physical Schenn has embraced the role of shut-down, physical blueliner. He will have his hands full against Ovechkin tonight.

Capitals: Niklas Backstrom - With all the talk surrounding Ovechkin, the smooth Backstrom flies under many teams' radar. An elite talent that currently leads the Capitals in scoring, Backstrom is not a player the Leafs can ignore tonight.

Game Time: 7:00 at the Verizon Centre. TV - Sportsnet Ontario. Radio - AM640.