When he struggled earlier this season, Alex Ovechkin was picked up by his teammates. Now with Washington short-handed, the Capitals are looking for the reigning MVP to return the favor.
Ovechkin and the Capitals look to win their sixth straight at the Verizon Center when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.
Washington (22-11-3) is an Eastern Conference-best 14-1-1 at home this season and has won five straight there, including a 3-2 victory over Buffalo on Friday. Ovechkin, who has 14 goals and 11 assists in 15 games a the Verizon Center, scored his 23rd goal in the third period to give Washington a 3-1 lead.
Ovechkin has nine goals in his last eight games after scoring twice in his first 12. He had one goal waved off in the second period on Friday.
"He was mad, and he was going to make up for it," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They were checking him, and he was losing the puck, but he was just determined. It was like, 'They took one away from me, and they're not going to take another one away.'"
Ovechkin's recent scoring surge is good news for the short-handed Capitals. Third-leading scorer Alexander Semin missed his third straight game on Friday because of a back injury, while Tomas Fleischmann sat out because of what Boudreau announced on Saturday was pneumonia. Semin, second on the team with 14 goals, is day-to-day.
Boudreau wouldn't put a timetable on Fleischmann's return but said the right wing, who has 12 goals this season, is being kept away from the rink.
"The thing I worry about is that it really weakens you," he said. "He's got to get his strength back when he gets back."
Friday's win was the Capitals' seventh in the last eight games and gave them back-to-back victories following an embarrassing 7-1 loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 20. Washington is trying to take advantage of a home-heavy stretch in its schedule where it plays five of its next six at the Verizon Center.
Toronto (14-15-6) has struggled in its last two games, losing 8-2 to Dallas on Tuesday and 4-1 to a New York Islanders team on Friday that had lost 10 straight.
Lee Stempniak scored for the Maple Leafs, who had won five of six before dropping their last two contests.
Vesa Toskala made 27 saves, falling to 1-2-0 with a 6.16 goals-against average in his last four starts.
"I don't think we played good in tonight's game," forward Matt Stajan said. "We were sloppy and turned the puck over. We didn't come out the way we wanted. It hurts us as a team that we know we let this one get away."
Porous defense remains a problem for the Leafs, who rank near the bottom of the league with 126 goals allowed. Opponents have averaged 3.8 goals in Toronto's last eight games.
Ovechkin was held without a point in Washington's 2-1 victory at Toronto on Dec. 6. He has 11 goals and five assists in 13 career games against the Maple Leafs.
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