Oct. 13 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 99.1 FM
Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1-0
Washington Capitals 2-1-1
After alternating home and road games and playing two sets of back-to-back games in the first nine nights of the 2018-19 season, the Caps settle into a more normal section of the schedule on Saturday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs' lone visit to the District this season.
For the first time in franchise history, the Caps opened the season with two sets of back-to-backs. All four contests were played against playoff teams from last season, and three of those games came against teams that won a playoff round in 2018. The Caps did well to get out to a 2-0-1 start under those circumstances, but they hit the rumble strips on Thursday night in Newark, losing an ugly 6-0 decision to the Devils in a game they were never really in.
"I think you just remind yourself that things aren't as bad as they looked just because of one night," says Caps center Lars Eller of Thursday's loss. "At the same time, you also have got to respond next game. Don't get too low and beat ourselves up about it, recognize what we did wrong and fix it. We know we are a very good team. One game doesn't change that."
Washington's offensive attack was in high gear in the first three games of the season as the Capitals poured 18 pucks into opposition nets, a franchise record for the first three games of the season. But the Caps couldn't muster anything in the way of an attack in the loss to the Devils. Washington wasn't able to string together more than a pass or two without stalling and/or losing possession, it couldn't establish a forecheck, and it spent most of the night chasing the Devils and the puck.
"They came with a ton of energy - understandably - and were competing, and skating and making plays," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "We were a little slow, a little sloppy with the puck, weren't thinking quick enough and just didn't execute well enough to really make it a game. Credit them because they played really hard and really well, and we should play better."
Early in the 2017-18 season, the Caps endured a remarkably similar night at a similar juncture of the campaign. Supplying the opposition for the Flyers' home opener a night after downing the Devils in Newark, the Caps suffered an 8-2 humbling in Philly on Oct. 14, 2017.
After that lopsided loss to the Flyers early last season, the Caps returned home to host the Maple Leafs in their next game, as they will do in the aftermath of Thursday's defeat against the Devils. Toronto won that October meeting with the Caps in D.C. last October, 2-0, but Washington downed the Leafs 4-2 on the road in late November and won 5-2 over Toronto on March 3, outdoors in Annapolis.
The Leafs have roared out to a 4-1 start in the early going, and they're a perfect 3-0 on the road thus far. Toronto swaggers into town on the heels of a 5-3 win in Detroit on Thursday, the Leafs' third straight triumph and the third game in a row in which they've scored at least five goals.
Despite playing without top six winger William Nylander (unsigned RFA) and losing veteran sniper James vanRiemsdyk to free agency, the Leafs are scoring at a prolific rate. The early returns on the Leafs' offseason blockbuster signing of John Tavares are quite good; the cornerstone center gives the Leafs a group of pivots that rivals any in the league, and Toronto's top players are off to historic offensive starts.
Tavares and teammates Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have all cracked the double-digit level in points, and the quartet comprises the league's top four scorers at the moment. The four Maple Leafs have combined for 44 points in five games, and each has at least twice as many points as every other Toronto skater. Only five teams in league history have had four players roll up more points than Toronto's foursome has in the first five games of the season, and the most recent of the bunch was the 1988-89 edition of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Matthews has had multiple points in each of the Leafs' first five games, the first NHL player to do so at the start of the season since Toronto teammate Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton did it six years ago with San Jose. Matthews is just the 12th player in league history to achieve the feat, and at age 21 is now the youngest to do so. That distinction was previously held by a guy named Wayne Gretzky, who did it as a 22-year-old with Edmonton in 1983-84.
With nine goals in the season's first five games, Matthews matches an Alex Ovechkin achievement from last season, becoming the 16th player in the league to pull off that feat.