Tuesday's game also finishes off the October portion of the Caps' 2019-20 schedule. Washington will play its ninth road game on Tuesday night. No NHL team will play more road games in the season's first month, and the Caps have played nearly half (seven of 16) of their entire Western Conference road schedule for the season.
The Caps have fared well on the road, forging the best road start in franchise history with a 6-1-1 record through eight road games. No other team in the league has more than four road victories. Every team has to play 41 road games, and the Caps have managed to make a fair amount of hay over the first 20 percent or so of their road slate.
After more than a week out on the road on this trip, most of us are itching to get back home. But the players know there is business to be taken care of here in Toronto before we head back to the District later tonight.
"The focus is still the same; it doesn't matter how many days you are on the road," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "You want to get these two points and feel good about ourselves moving forward here. Something that we've always talked about is if you want to be successful, you've got to be successful on the road. So far this season, we've been okay there, so let's just keep it going here."
Video: Nicklas Backstrom | October 29
When the Caps faced the Leafs in Washington earlier this month, Toronto brought a 4-2 -1 mark into the contest. The Leafs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over the Caps that night, but Washington ground them down over 60 minutes of play, outhitting them 16-4 in the first and 31-9 on the night in a 4-3 victory.
"We were aggressive that game," says Backstrom of the previous meeting between these two teams this season, "and we were pretty physical, too. We knew they played back-to-back that time, so it's going to be a little different tonight, but at the same time, I think we've just got to stay aggressive. Have a good forecheck, make it hard on their [defense], especially early in the game here."
Seconds Of Pleasure - Tuesday's game pits a pair of the league's best teams in the middle frame. Second periods have been a boon for the Caps this season, and for the Leafs as well. Washington has outscored the opposition by a combined 22-9 in the middle period of its 13 games this season, and a third of its goals against in the second came in its most recent game, a 6-5 shootout win over the Canucks on Friday.
The Caps were dented for three second-period goals in Vancouver, as they fell down 5-1 in the middle of that period. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the final second of the frame, keeping the Caps' second-period streak going. They've scored at least once in the second period of all 13 games this season, and no team has scored more goals in the middle frame than Washington.
Toronto has an 18-9 goal differential of its own in the second, and their plus-9 in the second is third best in the league behind only Washington (plus-13) and Buffalo (plus-12). The Leafs have been held off the board in the middle frame only twice this season, most recently when they Caps kept them scoreless in the second in an Oct. 16 game in Washington.
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | October 29
As well as they've played in the second period this season, both Washington and Toronto are underwater in the first and third periods. The Caps are minus-3 in the first, minus-2 in the third and minus-2 in overtime. The Leafs are minus-2 in the first, minus-5 in the third, and even in overtime.
Back In The Saddle - Travis Boyd saw his first NHL action of the season on Friday in Vancouver, drawing into the lineup at the last minute and skating the right side of the Caps' fourth line with Brendan Leipsic and Nic Dowd. Assigned to Hershey after clearing waivers shortly after the season's outset, Boyd totaled four goals and six points in just three games at Hershey, and he was summoned back from the Bears when Richard Panik went on long-term injured reserve with an upper body injury.
Washington's forward corps has played well, and Boyd had gone nearly two weeks without playing at all when he was a late insertion into the lineup for Friday's game against the Canucks. Not only did he get into the lineup, Boyd's presence was important in Washington's comeback from a 5-1 second-period deficit to earn a 6-5 shootout win.
Caps coach Todd Reirden adjusted his lines in the third period, double-shifting Kuznetsov with Leipsic and Boyd in an effort to generate offense. The ploy worked wonders, as that unit was on the ice for goals on consecutive shifts, with Boyd supplying critical net front presence on each of Michal Kempny's two third-period goals in that game.
"If you look at this league in general," says Boyd, "not only are the goalies so good, but the defending is so good. Quite frankly, if you don't get some sort of screen or some sort of traffic in front of these goalies, their save percentage is going to be through the roof.
"We talk about it every single day, we need guys at the net front both offensively and we need to clear guys out of our defensive net front, too. I think you see it, it's just hard work. You get in on the forecheck, get it back to the [defense], and if you can get some traffic there, that point shot all of a sudden becomes a dangerous play. There will be nights and you may go consecutive games where you may not score any goals with traffic in front, but all of a sudden, a couple of pucks have eyes and they find their way through. Those are big time goals."
Video: Rinkside Update | Travis Boyd
Boyd skated 8:14 in Friday's game, getting a shot on net, picking up his first assist of the season, and finishing at plus-2. It was enough to earn him a sweater for a second consecutive game tonight.
"We decided to stay with Boyd tonight in our lineup," says Reirden. "I thought he had a strong game. What he was able to do was, he brought us some energy, and the other thing be brought us was the fact that he went to the front of the net. On both of the goals that we scored, he is at the net front as a screen option.
"We've talked about it a lot. Our fourth line has got to be no fun to play against, has got to be physical on the forecheck, and then we've got to be around the net front. Yeah, he's not the biggest guy, but I can tell you he went there twice, and that's a big reason Michal Kempny left the game with two goals."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby is back in goal for Washington on Tuesday, seeking his fifth win of the season and his third on the current road trip. Holtby had a three-game winning streak snapped in his last start on Thursday in Edmonton in a 4-3 overtime loss.
Lifetime against the Leafs, Holtby is 9-5-1 with a shutout, a 2.39 GAA and a .925 save pct.
When these two teams met earlier in the month in the District, the backup goaltenders for both teams got the start. Tonight the Caps will get their first look at Frederik Andersen this season. Andersen earned a 4-1 win over San Jose on Friday in his most recent start, a game in which he faced a light workload of just 17 shots. Toronto has had four sets of back-to-backs in the early going this season, which has meant more starts than normal for Michael Hutchinson, Andersen's understudy.
Lifetime against Washington, Andersen is 5-2-1 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.82 GAA and a .913 save pct.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 29
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Leafs to look on Tuesday night in Toronto when they meet for the second of three times this season at Scotiabank Arena:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 21-Hathaway
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 72-Boyd
14-Panik (upper body)
65-Mikheyev, 15-Kerfoot, 16-Marner
18-Johnsson, 34-Matthews, 88-Nylander
42-Moore, 19-Spezza, 24-Kapanen
41-Timashov, 26-Shore, 33-Gauthier
11-Hyman (ACL surgery)