Caps head north of the border to challenge Leafs
Saturday, 11.21.2009 / 7:00 PM
CAPITALS (13-5-4) at MAPLE LEAFS (3-11-6)
Last 10: Washington 5-3-2; Toronto 2-4-4
Season series: Second of four meetings this season. Washington won 6-4 at the Verizon Center on Oct. 3 in a game that was a lot more lopsided than the final score would indicate. Alexander Semin scored twice as the Capitals raced out to a 6-1 lead after two periods before the Maple Leafs rallied in the third. Vesa Toskala was pulled after the first, with Jonas Gustavsson making his NHL debut in relief.
Big Story: The big injury story in Washington is no more, as Alex Ovechkin returned earlier this week with a goal against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and played his first game in a couple weeks at the Verizon Center on Friday against the Canadiens. But the Capitals very much remain a banged-up squad. They added defenseman Tom Poti (upper-body injury) to an ever-growing injury list on the same night 19-year-old blueliner John Carlson made his NHL debut.
Capitals: Despite holding a 1-0 lead after the first period and outshooting Montreal 27-8 over the final 40 minutes, Washington came out on the wrong end of a 3-2 score. Goalie Jose Theodore remained away from the team while dealing with a personal matter and Semyon Varlamov was given a rest in anticipation of starting Saturday, so 21-year-old Michal Neuvirth got the call and stopped 19 of 22 shots in his sixth NHL game. Defenseman Mike Green hit the post on a late 6-on-4 advantage with the Capitals on a power play and Neuvirth pulled for an extra attacker.
"We turned it on at the end," said Brendan Morrison, who scored with 2:32 left to force the frantic finish. "But it was too little, too late."
Maple Leafs: Thursday's 6-5 shootout loss to Carolina summed up rather well how things have gone for Toronto since an uplifting 5-1 win over Detroit two weeks ago. The Leafs are 0-4-1 since and they managed to blow leads of 3-0, 4-2 and 5-4 in letting the Hurricanes push them into the NHL's cellar. The final lead they let slip away was the most galling, as Ian White scored with 30 seconds left in regulation only to have Erik Cole tie the score with 2.9 seconds remaining to force overtime.
''We definitely let one get away there,'' said Matt Stajan, one of five Leafs to record a goal. ''It's been the story all year. … Nothing's going right. We score a goal late, it seems like things are going to turn, and they get one with two seconds left. I'm kind of at a loss for words.
''You shouldn't lose a hockey game where you have a 3-0 lead, let alone one with a lead with three seconds left.''
Who's Hot: Green had two assists against the Habs, giving him nine points (one goal, eight assists) during a five-game points streak.
Stajan has two goals and five points during a four-game points streak for the Leafs. Phil Kessel had a six-game points streak (five goals, three assists) snapped against the Hurricanes.
Injury Report: Poti adds his name to a Washington list that includes Semin (wrist), Mike Knuble (finger), Boyd Gordon (back), Milan Jurcina (lower body), Quintin Laing (jaw) and Shaone Morrisonn (upper body).
Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek is expected to be out until early next month after a quadriceps injury landed him on injured reserve. Forward Colton Orr missed practice Friday after blocking a shot in Thursday's loss and was getting X-rays on his foot as a precaution.
Stat Pack: It's been a streaky season for the Leafs, who picked up a point in their season opener, went seven straight games without one, earned at least a point in their next seven games (a season-best 3-0-4 stretch) and then lost four straight in regulation before getting a point out of the shootout defeat to the Hurricanes.
Puck Drop: Washington had to play the night before and travel while Toronto was home and resting, but the Capitals will still have a fresh Varlamov (8-1-0, 2.59 goals-against average, .911 save percentage), who could turn out to be the X-factor in this matchup.