"They definitely have some real top end talent," says Caps defenseman John Carlson of the Toronto roster. "It's a really good test coming in. We haven't been good at home, so that's going to be a big thing for us. We've always been a good home team, and it's something where we want to carry on that tradition. It's been unacceptable at home - our efforts - and we'll look to change that tonight."
Five Take Five - The Leafs are a high event team at 5-on-5. Their total of 18 goals at full and even strength ranks second in the NHL, and they've also yielded the second most goals (19) in the league at 5-on-5 in the early going.
Washington has managed just 10 goals at 5-on-5 thus far, and it has surrendered 16, tied for sixth most in the circuit. While the Caps have had the better of the possession and territory battles over their first seven games, the time spent in the attack zone hasn't yet translated into a consistent stream of goals.
"I just think we haven't played a consistent enough game," says Carlson, when queried as to the dearth of 5-on-5 scoring for his team. "And I think just the way that we're taking penalties throws off that flow a little bit at 5-on-5, when different players get asked to do different things.
"There is obviously a perfect scenario, but what that is, I don't know. But certainly when you take that many penalties, some guys are sitting 12 minutes in a period or whatever it is. It's tough to get into the flow, and it's just one of the things we can do a lot better all over the ice - breakouts. I think we turn the puck over a little bit too much, and that's leading to defensive zone time instead of our strengths in the offensive zone."
We've got nothing but small sample sizes this early into the season, but the Caps' 7.5% shooting rate at 5-on-5 is well below the league average of 9.6%. Washington's .891 save percentage in the same situation is also well below the NHL average of .904, despite the team's relatively strong 53.2% rate of all shot attempts at full and even strength.
"For me, our overall execution has been a focus point for us the last couple of days in practice," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We're getting to some decent areas, but we're not finishing. A lot of it is either maybe a poor pass or a poor reception of the pass - one of the two - so it's been a combination of both. And that's something we've worked on the last couple of days, is just being sharper with our overall execution with the puck, and then getting to those dangerous areas and finishing.
"Obviously you can't expect right now to be in midseason form in terms of being able to convert a lot of high-end plays. For the first 20 games of the season, a lot of times it's a little scrambly and not everyone is on top of their game yet. So I think it's good to simplify and put pucks in play when we have the opportunity. When you have the option, we should make the proper choice. Those are some things where we're getting to the zone, and we've really limited our shots against and doing some decent things, it's just that our overall game needs to continue to grow, as expected."
The Leafs feature a terrific one-two punch up the middle with John Tavares and Auston Matthews, and they've got a group of swift and skilled wingers in their ranks as well. The Caps are coming off a couple recent games against similarly constructed teams in the Predators and the Avalanche, which may help prepare them for Wednesday's game with the Leafs.
"At times, the first couple of shifts [Monday] night [against Colorado], we had four or five really good scoring chances, and if those go in, it's a different game," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "But those teams, sometimes they make you feel like you have chances offensively, and then they're gone the other way and they've got a lot of offensive threats and individuals that can score. If it's kind of a broken play or an odd-man rush, they're good at finishing their opportunities, and Toronto is going to be the same.
"We can't get lulled into playing a chance-for-chance game; we've got to continue to play our game and find our game, and that will be all right."
I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide - Like many folks in the greater DMV area this gloomy Wednesday morning, the Caps are basking in the success of their crosstown brethren of the horsehide, the Washington Nationals, who secured the first World Series berth in franchise history on Tuesday night when they completed a lopsided sweep of St. Louis in the NLCS.
"It's great," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. "I'm happy for the team and for the boys, for the city. They fight hard and I hope they're going to win it all. So we're going to cheer, we're going to be with them, and wish them luck."
Ovechkin predicted that Nats sweep of the Cardinals last week, so we asked his thoughts on the upcoming Fall Classic against an as yet to be determined opponent.
"I don't know," came the reply, followed quickly by, "Four-two or four-one. Like five games."
When it was pointed out that the Nats have won six straight since Ovechkin tossed the first pitch earlier this fall at Nats Park, the captain replied thusly: "I put it on Instagram they have to bring me all of the time. I'm the lucky charm, so we'll see."
For the purveyor of Ovi's O's to utter the phrase "lucky charm" might be a bit self-defeating in the realm of the cereal aisle - I mean, they are magically delicious - but the more painful part of the Nats landing in the World Series is that the Caps won't be around to bask in the joy and excitement the Series will bring to the District. On Saturday afternoon, the Caps embark upon their longest road trip of the season, a 10-day journey that takes them through five cities and three time zones to play five games. The Caps won't return to the District until the wee hours of the morning on Oct. 30.
"I just told [Evgeny Kuznetsov] it sucks we're not going to be able to go to the games," ways Ovechkin, "but we're going to watch it on the TV for sure. How I said, we're going to give our energy to the team and to the boys. I hope they're going to do it."
Another Day - Today was another day that ended in "y," so there was absolutely another update as to the ongoing health of rehabbing Caps defenseman Michal Kempny.
"I'm still very hopeful that he'll be playing [soon]," says Reirden. "He is moving in the right direction. He had a really good practice today, and our hopes are that he will be a possibility for us for Friday [against the Rangers]."
In The Nets - Caps goalie Braden Holtby is in the midst of some early season struggles. He permitted three goals on as many shots before being pulled in Monday's game against Colorado, and he has yielded seven goals on 19 shots in his last 26 minutes and 22 seconds of work, including the third period of last Thursday's game in Nashville.
While professing faith in Holtby's ability to bounce back and stressing that he is still the team's No. 1 netminder, Reirden is opting to give rookie Ilya Samsonov the start against Toronto.
"Samsonov will play tonight," says Reirden. "Braden had a good chance today to work on some things today with our goalie coach [Scott Murray], but for tonight, we're going to go with Samsonov.
"He is a rookie goaltender, and finding his way. We've liked how he has played so far and we just thought it was the right decision for us to get him back in there tonight."
Samsonov has earned two of Washington's three wins on the season, and is 2-1-0 with a 1.43 GAA and a .944 save pct. in two starts and one relief outing. After winning the season opener in St. Louis on Oct. 2, Holtby is winless in four starts since (0-1-2).
"In this situation, this is the choice we're making," says Reirden. "This gives you a good chance to reset here. I know Braden is an outstanding goaltender and has been for us in the past, and just like every other player, they go through times that they can play better than others. Right now, as he has alluded to, he needs a little a reset, and he has been able to have that [Tuesday] and today. Now we'll get him ready for his next chance."
Reirden did not indicate when that next chance would be, saying the decision will be made on a game-to-game basis.
"It's not a goaltending controversy at this point," he adds. "Braden is our No. 1 goalie."
Toronto played on home ice last night, dispatching the Minnesota Wild 4-2 before making the southerly journey to DC. Frederik Andersen had the net for the Leafs in that one, stopping 27 of 29 shots to improve to 4-2-0 on the season.
The Caps are likely to see backup Michael Hutchinson on Wednesday as the Leafs finish up their second set of back-to-backs this season. Since winning a career high 21 games for Winnipeg in 2014-15, Hutchinson has earned a combined total of 23 wins in five seasons since. In one start and one relief outing this season, Hutchinson is 0-0-1 with a 3.85 GAA and an .894 save pct.
Lifetime against Washington, Hutchinson is 1-1-1 with a 3.93 GAA and an .870 save pct. Drafted by Boston (third round, 77th overall) in 2008, Hutchinson was the seventh goalie drafted that summer while Holtby (fourth round, 93rd overall) was the 10th.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Leafs to look when they meet on Wednesday night in Washington:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 21-Hathaway
28-Leipsic, 18-Stephenson, 14-Panik
6-Kempny (lower body)
24-Kapanen, 91-Tavares, 16-Marner
18-Johnsson, 34-Matthews, 88-Nylander
65-Mikheyev, 15-Kerfoot, 42-Moore
41-Timashov, 26-Shore, 33-Gauthier
11-Hyman (lower body)