Sunday, October 28, 2007

October 29: Caps Visit Leafs

The Capitals are facing a tough task in an important game as they travel to Toronto tonight to take on the Maple Leafs (5-4-3). According to Tarik Alexander Semin, Tom Poti and Chris Clark are all "doubtful/questionable" for the game. Given that Semin's injury has seemingly disappeared only to pop up twice already, Poti's nursing a groin strain (which are tricky for hockey players) and Clark hasn't been spotted with the team in Toronto I'd say there's not much chance of seeing any of them tonight, meaning the Caps will again be with out several key players.

Toronto is a talented team: Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov and Jason Blake provide the team with solid scoring and the defense is lead by two of the best in the game in Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe. The secondary/role players are solid too; most team would be happy to have either Hal Gill (who Jagr once said was the toughest defenseman to play against) or Pavel Kubina on their second pairing, let alone both. At the other end Antropov and Alexander Steen provide enough scoring depth that the Leafs won't have to rely on their first line.

But the Leafs have obvious holes too, the most obvious of which is goaltending. Neither Vesa Toskala nor Andrew Raycroft is good enough to be the type of goalie an NHL team would want to be their number one, something the Leafs 28th ranked 3.59 GAA suggests). The Capitals have been outshooting their opponents for the most part this season and they need to continue to do so against Toronto, especially against goalies like Raycroft and Toskala each of whom are both inconsistent and too small to be able to cover the whole net at once. If the Caps can get traffic in front they could easily see a shot or two get through from the outside or the point.

Kubina and Gill are both solid defensemen, especially in their own zone, but both are big, physical players who can be beaten by speedy forwards. Even without Semin and Clark the Caps have a lot of those guys: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Fleischmann and Nylander all posses some combination of speed, agility and puck control that will make them difficult for the Leafs bigger defensemen to control. Add that to the tendency McCabe, Ian White and Andy Wozniewski each have to make mistakes in their own end that to lead to chances for the opposition and the Capitals should have plenty of chance to put the biscuit in the basket (to borrow a phrase from Craig Laughlin).

Finally the Leafs simply take too many penalties (their 201 PIMs are third in the league thus far). McCabe, Gill, Kubina, Antropov and even Jason Blake are guys who will take frustration penalties and the Caps should be able to make a fairly slow defense take penalties to prevent good scoring chances.

There really is not such a thing as a must-win game and this point in the season, but the difference between a win and a loss is huge for the Capitals right now. A loss would take them to 4-7 and 1-7 since a 3-0 start; a win puts them one more win away from .500, gets out some of the frustration the team must be feeling after a pair of one-goal losses in which the Caps outplayed their opponents and would provide a boost for a team likely to be playing without its number one defenseman, number two scoring threat and captain. The team knows this and a players-only meeting was held after the last game. The team seems to know their situation: they're not in real hot water yet but there's no reason this ship can't be righted right now.

When it comes down to it, there is no doubt Toronto is a talent team but the Capitals, with their multiple scoring threats and solid checking line, match up well against them. Air Canada Centre is tough place to visit as an opposing player and if the injury-riddled Caps are able to pull one out it could provide some significant positive momentum.


"We just cleared the air about a few things. We're taking too many penalties right now. Whether they are in the offensive zone, or defensive zone. And just confidence. We had a swagger at the start of the year. We have to get that back. [The meeting] was good."

-Matt Pettinger on the players-only meeting the team held after their 4-3 loss in St. Louis.

"We definitely need those people, but it's an opportunity for other people to step forward. We have people who are fighting for their NHL lives here. If you give up that many minutes, someone's going to have an opportunity to step up and play."

-Glen Hanlon

This from the Post Preview: "The Maple Leafs find themselves in similarly sad shape [in terms of injuries]. They won't have forwards Darcy Tucker (right knee) and Kyle Wellwood (groin) or defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and Bryan McCabe (groin)...The Leafs are third in the NHL in penalty minutes but tied for 14th (with seven other teams) in fighting majors... Toronto is 5-2-0 with one tie in its last eight home games against Washington.

Other Previews: (AP), Maple Leafs Official Site (AP), Washington Post

No comments: