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Leafs at Capitals Preview: Rocket Race

Two of the top goal-scorers in the league meet in D.C.

Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Game 53: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 PM
Place: Capital One Arena
Channel: Sportsnet

You’ve probably seen this piece of trivia, but it’s funny to me anyway: Auston Matthews and Alexander Ovechkin have the same birthday (September 17). That is Today’s Fun Fact. Now let’s throw on some music and get previewing.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Ondřej Kaše - John Tavares - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - David Kämpf - Alexander Kerfoot
Nicholas Robertson - Jason Spezza - Wayne Simmonds

Defence
Morgan Rielly - Timothy Liljegren
T.J. Brodie - Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin - Ilya Lyubushkin

Goaltenders
Petr Mrázek
Jack Campbell

After a game on Saturday that can generously be characterized as a gong show, Sheldon Keefe has gone back to the same skaters, leaving Pierre Engvall and Travis Dermott to recover in the press box for another game. The only change is that Petr Mrázek is starting in net, because the Leafs have to play somebody and Jack Campbell looks like he could use a break.

Washington Capitals

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Conor Sheary - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Connor McMichael - Lars Eller - Daniel Sprong
Carl Hagelin - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Defence
Martin Fehervary - John Carlson
Dmitri Orlov* - Nick Jensen
Michal Kempny - Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goalie

Ilya Samsonov
Vitek Vanacek

*Orlov was absent from practice for personal reasons, but is expected to play. Justin Schultz is a game-time decision, as per JJ Regan of NBC.

Washington has been scuffling a bit, falling back from a seeded spot in the Metropolitan Division and giving faint hopes of a playoff spot to the surging Columbus Blue Jackets. Washington still ought to make the postseason comfortably, but finishing fourth in the Metro likely sets them up for an unpleasant first-round matchup with Florida, Tampa Bay, or Carolina.

The Caps are a decent but aging team. Early on they were powered by a resurgent season from Ovechkin, but he’s slowed down of late, and the team has slowed with him. Tom Wilson, a sprightly 27, is the youngest of the players in the top six, while Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie are all in their mid-30s.

Washington is still decent defensively, but the powerplay is surprisingly poor (24th in goal rate 5v4) for a team that posts several of the most feared powerplay weapons in the league. They’re a decent 5v5 team, but they don’t look like a true contender, barring a goalie run from Ilya Samsonov.

All in all the Leafs should be the better team in this one, assuming their goalies don’t allow goals on 20% of the shots against, and what are the chances of that happening?