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Caps Tangle with Leafs in Toronto

Washington concludes a busy week of hockey with a Saturday night visit to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / WashingtonCaps.com

Nov. 25 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre 

Time: 7:00 p.m. 

TV: NBC Sports Washington +

Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7

Washington Capitals 13-10-1

Toronto Maple Leafs 15-8-1

Washington concludes its fifth set of back-to-back games this season when it travels to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs in a Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada contest. The game pits a pair of teams playing for the second time in as many nights, and both teams were winners on Friday night in the front end of those back-to-backs. The contest also pits a pair of teams that went head-to-head in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, with the Capitals prevailing in a tight, six-game series in which five of the tilts were decided in overtime.

The Caps hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning at Capital One Arena on Friday night, and Washington did the Leafs a favor by downing the Bolts, 3-1. The loss was just the fourth regulation setback in 22 games for the Lightning this season, and it enabled the Leafs to creep within three points of the Bolts for the catbird's seat in the Atlantic Division standings. 

A day ahead of his 26th birthday, Philipp Grubauer stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced to earn his first victory in six starts this season. Washington fell behind early in Friday's game, surrendering a somewhat fluky power-play goal just 82 seconds after the opening puck drop. But that was all the offense the dynamic and dangerous Lightning would muster in the game. The Caps scored once in each period and had the better of the territorial and possession games over the first 40 minutes of the contest. 

"The team played unbelievable," says Grubauer. "If we play like this the whole year we are going to be really tough to beat. Everybody was working, our gaps were great, and we didn't give a lot up. We blocked a bunch of shots. It was an awesome game." 

As the 2017-18 has progressed, the Caps have made small but steady improvements in many aspects of their game. One area that is still in need of addressing is the team's performance in the second half of back-to-back games. While Washington is now 5-0-0 in the front end of those back-to-back sets, it has yet to claim as much as a single point in the back end of those contests. The Caps are 0-4-0 in the second of back-to-backs, and they've been outscored by a combined total of 17-5 in those four games.

So, what's it going to take on Saturday for the Caps to put forth a better second night effort against a very strong Toronto team?

"Maybe the five o'clock start [on Friday] will help us," opines Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "We'll get in [to Toronto] a little earlier. I don't know what the answer is there, if it's mental fatigue or if physically guys just can't get themselves to go on that second night, or what the issue has been so far. But we're going to try to fix it. It's up to each individual to be mentally tough and ready to go for that second night.

"Really, there are no excuses. Everybody has to do it, so we'll try to play smart if you don't have your legs. But mentally, just get yourself ready to go." 

While the Caps were taking down Tampa Bay in the District on Friday night, the Maple Leafs were in Raleigh facing the Hurricanes. Toronto stormed to a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes, but the Leafs had to hold on to gain a 5-4 victory over Carolina.

Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen stopped 43 of 47 shots on the night - and 17 of 20 he faced in the third period - to earn his 13th victory of the season.

Friday's victory halted a brief two-game slide (0-1-1) for the Leafs, who had won six straight ahead of that short skid.

Toronto ranks fourth in the league with an average of 3.54 goals per game, and the Leafs are tied for 12th in the circuit with an average of 3.00 goals against per contest this season. Toronto resides in the middle of the pack in both special teams. 

Sophomore center Auston Matthews leads the Leafs in scoring despite missing four games because of injury. Matthews has amassed 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 20 games in 2017-18. Toronto's offseason addition of veteran forward Patrick Marleau has also paid off. Marleau has nine goals and 16 points to date, ranking fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team in those departments.

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