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Game Preview: Maple Leafs face the reigning Cup Champions tonight

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The Leafs’ hot start to the season faces a big challenge: the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.

NHL: Stadium Series-Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Team vs Team: Game #6
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
Broadcast/Streaming: Hockey Night in Canada on CBC
Opponent SBNation Site: Japers’ Rink

This isn’t some random early season game to be quickly forgotten.

The Washington Capitals eliminated the Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the 2016-17 season, then they went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2017-18. Alex Ovechkin finally hoisted the trophy over his head.

No doubt one young Auston Matthews saw that, and no doubt he thought “I don’t want to wait 14 years after being drafted for that moment too” like Ovechkin.

The Leafs face their biggest challenge of the season to date in the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. This is a team they need to beat to prove that they want—and are able—to dethrone them this season if they want us to believe they can make it to the Final.

The Leafs arrive at this game with season-start records everywhere; from Morgan Rielly on defence to Auston Matthews on offence. This is turning into a team beyond what we thought they were. Even after that shaky start, they now lead the whole Atlantic Division (and the league), and at the time of writing a Leafs player is leading the league in all of goals, assists, points, and +/- (I am legitimately interested to know how they break this tie so Tavares is on top?).

But.....

It’s a long season. There’s 78 games to play after tonight. So let’s get through this one first and hopefully pick up another two points from outside the division to deposit in the playoff bank.

Maple Leafs Lines

From morning skate

Forward Lines

Patrick Marleau - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Par Lindholm - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown
Josh Leivo - Frederik Gauthier - Andreas Johnsson

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Igor Ozhiganov

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen - starter
Garret Sparks

Capitals Lines (from @ikhurshudyan)

Forward Lines

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Chandler Stephenson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Dmitrij Jaskin - Nic Dowd - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defence Pairings

Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby - starter
Pheonix Copley

First thing is first. Fuck Tom Wilson.

Coors Light NHL Stadium Series - Toronto Maple Leafs v Washington Capitals Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Now that’s over with, let’s talk about the Capitals.

The last time these two teams played each other was back on March 3rd in an outdoor game. It’s a testament to how the novelty of outdoor stadium games has worn off that both myself and other PPP staff I asked had totally forgot that game ever even happened, but it did! It was the game where Ovechkin scored his fourtieth goal of that season. Matthews may have that by next week.

The Capitals are not a very different team from the one that the Leafs met last season. They aren’t going to be an easy match up and this game could get rough. Holtby is still himself, but the team has struggled. They’ve won only two of four to start the season, and were obliterated in an embarassing 6-0 loss Thursday night to the Devils.

What we’re watching for on the Leafs is who can continue to keep up their pace. Yes, it’s a bit of a joke that Auston Matthews is on pace for a hundred-and-something point season.... or is it? You would think this would have to end, but, deep down there’s a little tiny glimmer of hope that maybe he could actually be that good.

Oh, right. There’s also those other guys having amazing starts to the season too. Guys like Marner, Rielly, and Kapanen. Who was it again that voted Kappy the highest in our Top 25?

What will really be interesting tonight is to see how they have been coached to play this game, and if it’s any different than the games that started this season which were much maligned for spotty goaltending and non-functinoal long stretch passes that made for gameplay not worthy of a playoff contender.

In any case, the game is afoot!

GO LEAFS GO!