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Caps Host Leafs

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (18-6-5-3) at Washington Capitals (10-19-2-1).

TIME: Friday, 7 p.m. EST.

A team meeting one month ago has helped turn the Toronto Maple Leafs into the hottest team in the NHL.

With points in a franchise-record 12 straight games, the Maple Leafs look to continue their run of success when they visit the Washington Capitals.

After a 3-2 loss at Edmonton on Nov. 20 stretched the Maple Leafs' winless streak to five, a team meeting was held with the players still wearing their equipment.

Toronto followed the meeting with eight straight wins before a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Dec. 9. The Leafs rebounded with three consecutive victories and are now challenging Philadelphia and Detroit for the league's best record.

"We had a lot of guys speak up that night. Mats (Sundin) started it, and a lot of guys chipped in with their two cents' worth," left wing Gary Roberts said. "Since that day, for whatever reason, whether it was the meeting or not, we've found a way to come together and win a lot of hockey games together."

Several of the Leafs have elevated their play since the meeting, particularly forwards Owen Nolan and Sundin and goaltender Ed Belfour.

Nolan went six games before scoring his first goal of the season, but he has 11 points in his last 10 games. Sundin didn't have a goal in his first eight games, but has seven in the last 12 games and is among the league leaders with 32 points.

Belfour has won 10 of his last 11 starts, allowing just 16 goals.

He stopped 20 shots for his third shutout in six games and Sundin and Roberts each had a goal and an assist Tuesday, leading Toronto to a 3-0 victory over Tampa Bay.

"Everybody deserves a real pat on the back for how we've played," Roberts said. "Our guys have really pulled together. Everyone has contributed."

The Leafs have had to overcome injuries to several key players this season and Friday will be no exception. Defenseman Tomas Kaberle is not expected to play after injuring his shoulder Tuesday and center Joe Nieuwendyk is doubtful with an ankle injury.

A win Friday would be Toronto's seventh straight on the road, matching the franchise record set three times previously.

Washington has shown improvement under new coach Glen Hanlon, moving to 2-1-1 following a 2-2 tie at Florida on Wednesday.

The Capitals, still among the worst teams in the league, played without star right wing Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Brendan Witt. Jagr is day-to-day with a thumb injury while Witt missed his fourth straight game with a shoulder injury.

Washington is 0-5-1 in its last six meetings with Toronto.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 17): Maple Leafs - 44 points, 1st place, Northeast Division. Capitals - 23 points, 5th place, 13 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Sundin, 12 goals, 20 assists and 32 points; Nolan, 71 PIM. Capitals - Robert Lang, 17 goals and 40 points; Sergei Gonchar, 26 assists; Jason Doig, 52 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 17): Maple Leafs - Power play: 16.8 percent (27 for 161), 9th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.5 percent (141 for 165), 13th (tied). Capitals - Power play: 20.7 percent (29 for 140), 6th. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (119 for 142), 19th.

GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Belfour (15-9-3, 4 SO, 2.21 GAA); Trevor Kidd (1-0-0, 2.00). Capitals - Olaf Kolzig (8-18-1, 3.25); Maxime Ouellet (1-0-1, 1, 0.96).

SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 1-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 25; Maple Leafs, 4-1. At Toronto, Alexander Mogilny had a goal and two assists as Toronto sent Washington to its fifth straight loss.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 10-4-4-1 on the road; Capitals - 4-7-0-1 at home.

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