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Keys to the Game: Maple Leafs vs. Capitals

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs host Washington in their first home game of 2015. Here are the three keys to a win.

Wake up call

Randy Carlyle is out. Peter Horachek and Steve Spott will coach the team through this game. There will be no shortage of motivation following the change in coaches and the Leafs have shown an ability to outplay their opponent at certain times of the year. There is still a lot of hockey to play and Tuesday’s move should be a clear reminder of the consequences when you don’t perform at the highest level. The players have felt it and many were around during the last mid-season coaching change back in 2012. Contract or not, the magnitude of player evaluation just got amplified. The urgency has to be there from puck drop to final horn.

Special teams good and bad

While the Maple Leafs have decent special teams numbers (13th PP, 12th PK), the rankings have dropped from the top-10 levels they sustained before 2014 came to an end. The Capitals have the third-best power play and eighth-worst penalty kill. This has all the makings of a high scoring contest when you look at the talent level. With Washington’s disparity in special teams numbers, the game could very well be decided when the teams aren’t at even strength.

Limit Ovechkin, control emotions

Alex Ovechkin makes his return to Air Canada Centre for the first time since delivering a questionable hit to Leo Komarov. The Leafs forward missed over a month of action with a concussion and has played in three games since the incident. Toronto have to resist the urge to engage in any payback that could result in a costly penalty. Ovechkin has been hot lately, earning second ‘star of the week’ honours for getting six points over the course of three games.

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