Feb. 21 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Washington Capitals 33-20-7
Toronto Maple Leafs 36-19-4
The Caps head into the final third of their longest road trip of the season when they take on the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Thursday night. The game concludes the season's series between the two teams, and Toronto has won each of the first two meetings between the Caps and Leafs.
After getting shutout in the trip opener in Columbus, the Caps took two of three in California. They've alternated losses with wins through the first four games of the journey to stand at 2-2-0 going into Thursday's game in Toronto. The trip concludes with a Saturday matinee against the Sabres in Buffalo.
Most recently, the Caps earned a 3-2 win over the Kings in Los Angeles on Monday. That triumph was Washington's first at Staples Center in more than 13 years, ending an eight-game skid (0-6-2) during which the Caps scored a grand total of just 13 goals.
Video: Ovechkin powers Capitals to 3-2 win with two PPGs
Alex Ovechkin netted a pair of power-play goals in Monday's win, pushing his league-leading total to 42 on the season. With 13 power-play goals on the season, Ovechkin is tied for fourth in the NHL.
The Caps arrived in Toronto on Tuesday, and they practiced here on Wednesday. That practice session turned into a media speculation circus when Washington winger Dmitrij Jaskin was seen speaking with Caps coach Todd Reirden upon arrival at the rink, and then Jaskin did not join his teammates in getting dressed. At that point, some time before the 11 a.m. practice got underway, the Caps were poised to place Jaskin on waivers at noon on Wednesday.
But some time after the start of practice but prior to its conclusion, Caps winger Devante Smith-Pelly left the ice surface. And when the daily noon waiver wire time rolled around and a few stragglers were still on the ice, we all learned that it was in fact Smith-Pelly who was placed on waivers, and not Jaskin.
"Right now there is a lot of movement going on, especially for teams that are salary cap strapped like we are," says Reirden. "Earlier in the day, we made the decision to put Jaskin on waivers. And we changed our mind and were notified during practice. Then we made that adjustment, and Devante has been put on waivers."
Video: Todd Reirden | February 20
Smith-Pelly scored seven goals during Washington's playoff run to its first Stanley Cup championship last spring, including a dazzling game-tying tally in the third period of the decisive Game 5 of the Cup Final series in Vegas. He signed a one-year contract to remain with the Capitals for 2018-19, but his production declined along with his ice time.
Smith-Pelly suited up for each of Washington's first 34 games this season, but was a healthy scratch six times in the last 26 games, including Monday's won over the Kings. He is without a point in 17 straight games and without a goal in 33 straight, since Nov. 21 against Chicago.
Even when he isn't scoring, Smith-Pelly brings other assets to the table. He kills penalties, provides physicality and is one of the team's most fearless shot blockers. Smith-Pelly has played 129 of his 395 career NHL games in a Caps sweater, the same number of games he played with his first NHL team, Anaheim.
"It's always tough to tell a player that," says Reirden. "That's part of the business, especially for someone that's in a situation like we are, pushed to the [salary] cap and trying to make our team better. But it's disappointing for him, obviously, a big part of our team success last year."
As Reirden noted, the Caps are a team whose payroll is pressed close to the upper limits of the salary cap. If Washington is working on making a trade - and that's often the purpose of abruptly placing a player on waivers at this time of year - it may need to clear cap space even to add a minimal salary. One way or another, Smith-Pelly's $1 million annual salary will come off of Washington's books at noon on Thursday, and we may learn soon afterwards why the move was made.
"There is lots going on right now," says Reirden. "Like I said, we are always trying to improve our team and the direction we're going and get better. There are lots of moving parts right now in a number of different spots."
Video: Rinkside Update | Tom Wilson
Toronto is 7-2-2 in its last 11 games, a stretch that started with a 6-3 win over the Capitals here on Jan. 23. But as hot as the Leafs have been, both Tampa Bay and Boston have been even hotter, and Toronto has dropped back to third place in the Atlantic Division.
The Leafs are coming into Thursday's game on the heels of a 3-2 overtime loss to the Blues in St. Louis on Tuesday. Toronto trailed that game 2-0 going into the third, so the Leafs are likely pleased to have pulled a point from that game against a hot St. Louis club that won its 11th straight game.
Tuesday's loss came in the finale of Toronto's own six-game road trip. The Maple Leafs came home with a respectable 3-2-1 record on the journey. In Tuesday's loss to the Blues, the Leafs lost center Nazem Kadri. Kadri left the game after taking a hit from Blues defenseman Vince Dunn, and the Leafs later announced that he was out for the remainder of the game due to a concussion.