Toronto Maple Leafs (21-30-10) at Washington Capitals (46-12-4)
7:00 pm at Verizon Center
TV: SN, CSN-DC, NHL-TV
SBN: Japers Rink
The Caps have won four straight against Toronto; they've won in shootouts; they've won with goaltending heroics; they've just won. They beat the Penguins last night in a third period comeback and kept Phil Kessel off the score sheet, and they want to win tonight too. They win most of the time, and they have fun while they do it.
Tonight might be more awkward than fun, as it's a homecoming for a pair of guys traded for Daniel Winnik and is the Leafs fans' first, no second—third?—chance to see Winnik with a new team.
Brooks Laich, who has played one game for the Leafs so far, spent a lot of years in Washington. No other pro athlete had played in Washington longer than him, and now he has to find a place on the Leafs. Tonight is going to be tough for him. But his old friends have his back.
Alex Ovechkin wanted Laich to know how much he's going to miss him:
"It’ll be kind of strange," said Alex Ovechkin, who is now the longest-serving Capital. "We’re gonna have a power play and he’s going to be on [the penalty kill] and I’m going to shoot him in the foot."
Also making a return to Washington is Connor Carrick. The defence prospect played 37 games with the Capitals while spending most of his time in Hershey in the AHL. Carrick made an impact in his first game with the Leafs, getting into an AHL-style fight with J.T. Brown, so we'll have to watch and see how he handles the team he thought he was working to become a part of.
The Leafs are in last place, this is undeniable truth. And the Capitals are in first. But the Leafs have some tools in the drawer.
Leaf PK is 9 for 9 in its last 3 games, perfect in 4 of last 5. Caps' PP has been ranked no lower than 2nd in the last 4 seasons. Tops now.— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) 2 March 2016
This game really could come down to Ovi vs. Laich on the power play.
Laich has been working on the PK in practice and he related some of his practice technique to reporters:
"I told Willie (Nylander) that for the last however many years in Washington, I was on the PK against our PP, and that there was a cute little Swede on the wall named Nicklas Backstrom who had the puck all the time," Laich said with a smile.
"When we did the PK drill I would always tell him, ‘I’m going to roll out the red carpet and welcome you to hell.’
"Now maybe we have an even cuter Swede on the wall (Nylander). I just tried to bring that, told him, ‘Welcome to hell,’ and told (Kasperi) Kapanen the same thing.
"Willie said, ‘I’m glad to be here,’ and went in and put one bar-down on me.
Awww. He thinks Willy is cuter.
At the end of the game against Tampa, Mike Babcock put the cute Swede William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Zach Hyman out together, and left them out there with the goalie pulled as they desperately tried to get the equalizer.
This line has been around on the Marlies only since mid-February, but they looked like puzzle pieces meant to fit together in the AHL and in the NHL. Kapanen hasn't played much with Nylander as he's had a slower start on the season, but when they are together, it's always hot. Babcock has continued with this group in practice, and we might see them again tonight.
Other things to watch for tonight
Nikita Soshnikov: Lost in the Nylander hype and the Kapanen dazzle on the ice on Monday was the vaulting of Soshnikov from the third/fourth line on the Marlies to the top line on the Leafs where he played well with Nazem Kadri against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that isn't exactly bad defensively.
Ben Smith: Another new Leaf, acquired from San Jose in the Reimer deal, Smith did not impress in his first game. He centred Laich and Colin Greening, who looked nothing like the man we saw for several games with Mark Arcobello. Not much good came of it, and they were virtually benched for the third period. Welcome to Toronto, guys, have you met Mike?
Jonathan Bernier: Getting his tenth or eleventh second chance to show he's over whatever has been dogging him for months. Bernier needs to start putting up good performances one after the other.
Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly: They struggled with all the new faces on their team on Monday, but now is their time to take the top jobs on the Leafs defence. Bernier, aside, Mike Babcock doesn't seem to be a guy who gives out chances like candy; they need to grab this one and run.
Brad Boyes: He's on a 7 point in 9 game streak, and his icetime climbed in Monday's game as the Smith line's fell.
From Daily Faceoff
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson
Jay Beagle - Mike Richards - Stanislav Galiev
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Dmitri Orlov
Nate Schmidt - Mike Weber
From the last game and practices
Nikita Soshnikov - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
Zach Hyman - William Nylander - Kasperi Kapanen
Brooks Laich - Ben Smith - Colin Greening
Michael Grabner - Peter Holland - Brad Boyes
Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner - Frank Corrado
Martin Marincin - Connor Carrick
Jonathan Bernier to start