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Leafs @ Capitals Game Preview: 8 is Enough

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The Leafs visit the American capital to take on the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs @ Washington Capitals

Verizon Center; Washington, DC

7:00 p.m. ET; CBC (National)

Opposing SBN Perspective: Japers' Rink

Matchup

The Leafs are coming off a Friday night 2-1 OT loss to Detroit, dropping them to a league-worst 2-8-3 record. Systematically, the Leafs have been a better team under Babcock, but the losses have piled on as they've been equal parts bad and unlucky. James Reimer has let in some awful goals over the last couple of games, but has otherwise improved from earlier this season. He had a .917 SV% notwithstanding the comically bad goal he allowed in the first period.

The one softie per game would not be so back-breaking were the Leafs able to provide him with run support. The Leafs are scoring just 2.08 GF/G, which is 28th in the NHL. What's even more concerning is that of their 27 goals, more than half have come from three players: Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, and Leo Komarov. That said, the team is shooting 7.03% at 5v5, so bad puck luck is a factor. Nazem Kadri may be the biggest poster boy for this; he's shooting a dismal 1.9% despite 53 shots on goal, good for 5th in the NHL.

It won't get much easier for the Leafs, as they head into Washington to face a strong Capitals team. The Capitals sit second in the Metropolitan Division with a 9-3-0 record and winners of 8 of their last 10. The Caps are a polar opposite offense to the Leafs, scoring 3.33 GF/G, 4th best in the NHL. They also have Braden Holtby between the pipes, so goals will not be any easier to come by. Alex Ovechkin also needs one more goal to tie Sergei Fedorov's record for most NHL goals by a Russian-born player. Given the Leafs' penchant for allowing historical milestones this season, bet on it happening.

Three Questions With The Enemy

Answering my questions about the Capitals today is Katie Brown, Capitals correspondent for NHL.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @katiebhockey.

1) It's early, but the Capitals are near the Metropolitan Division lead, which may be a surprise to some given high expectations of division rivals such as the Rangers and Penguins. What's been the reason for their success thus far?

The Caps are now 2nd in the Metro with 18 points through 12 games (they have a game in hand on the Penguins, in 3rd) and it definitely could be a tight race to win the division. So far, the Caps have been able to find scoring from every line and they’ve been getting great goaltending from Braden Holtby. This year’s team is deep (especially at the forward position) and Barry Trotz seems to excel at squeezing the best results out of players. Expectations are high every year in Washington and this year is no different.


2) We all know about Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and Braden Holtby may be among the best goaltenders in the game. Beyond those three, what player should Leaf fans look out for?

Evgeny Kuznetsov has 14 points in 12 games and looks ready to have a breakout year. He’s deft with the puck and is playing on the top line with Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, and all three players are a scoring threat. Keep an eye out for the newly minted "Tre Kronor" line comprised of Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky. They’re pretty Swede.


3) If the Capitals win tonight, what will be the reason why? If they lose?

The Leafs have played six games in nine nights, they’re tired and will have to contend with a fast, rested team in Washington. The Capitals are 4-0-0 against teams on the second game of back-to-backs this season. If the Caps stick to what’s been working for them, they shouldn’t have any trouble tonight, but no game is a gimme. James Reimer could stand on his head and surprise everyone.

Probable Leafs Lineup

Leafs are not practicing this morning, but it is unlikely there will be much change to last night's lineup. Per Jonas Siegel, it is still undecided whether Reimer will start or Antoine Bibeau will get his first career NHL start (UPDATE: Mike Babcock has confirmed that Reimer will start).

van Riemsdyk - Kadri - Komarov

Matthias - Bozak - Parenteau

Winnik - Spaling - Lupul

Grabner - Froese - Boyes

Gardiner - Phaneuf

Hunwick - Rielly

Harrington - Polak

Reimer

Probable Washington Lineup

Per Chuck Gormley, these were the lines and D pairs at the Caps' morning skate. Holtby starts tonight.

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Andre Burakovsky

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Justin Williams

Brooks Laich - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Braden Holtby

Key To The Game

Stop allowing soft goals. The story has been the same all season. The Leafs come out of the gate swinging, only to be deflated when a garbage goal has them go down 1-0. If the goaltending can lock things down and keep the Leafs in it, they'll at least have a fighting chance. From there, they have to hope the puck luck problems can sort themselves out. Especially Kadri. He'll break out eventually; tonight would be nice.

Prediction

This picture will haunt your dreams.