TORONTO -- Jonathan Bernier will try to earn his first win of the season when the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Washington Capitals at Air Canada Centre on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, CSN-DC+).
Asked what kind of an opportunity this is for Bernier, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was emphatic in his answer.
"Huge, I'd say. I'd grab it if I was him," Babcock said.
Bernier started the season as the Maple Leafs' No. 1 goalie, but that role has since been claimed by James Reimer, who started 11 of the past 12 games. Reimer, however, will miss the game with a lower-body injury. He was injured in practice on Tuesday, missed practice Wednesday and after practicing Friday did not participate in the morning skate.
Babcock said Bernier needs to step up in terms of reestablishing himself as a starter.
"The bottom line is there is a real competition that goes on when the puck is dropped," Babcock said. "It is a competition between two centers; it's Alexander Ovechkin against Morgan Reilly, it's the goalie against the other goalie. You've got to outplay the other guy. It's the National Hockey League. Lots of goalies let in tough goals, but they don't do it at the wrong time. Other guys just can't find their way. You have to earn the right to feel good about yourself. He has been a good goalie in the past; grab hold and get running."
Maple Leafs captain Don Phaneuf said it does not matter who starts in goal.
"I think we are focused on how we have to play as a team no matter who is starting," Phaneuf said. "We have confidence in both of them. Obviously [Reimer] had been playing real strong hockey for us; I think he has been the backbone of our team, but injuries happen. When injuries happen other guys step up. [Bernier] is going in and we have lots of confidence in how he can play."
The Maple Leafs are coming off back-to-back losses against the Boston Bruins and have not played since Monday. The Capitals played Friday, winning 4-2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and are 2-1-1 in the second game of back-to-backs.
The Capitals won 3-2 against Toronto in a shootout on Nov. 7 and defenseman Karl Alzner said his team respects the Maple Leafs.
"That was a close game that could have gone either way," Alzner said. "We know that the Leafs are playing hard and they are 5-2-1 since we saw them last. They are playing some good hockey now. They have big guys that stand in front of the net and play a gritty game. Their power play is also tough to defend."
The Capitals scored three power-play goals against the Lightning on Friday and rank No. 3 in the NHL with the man-advantage, operating at a 25 percent success rate.
"The group has been together a while and when you come at us hard we can make three or four passes in a row," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "If you pressure us we have that ability to strike. If you sit back we have the ability to make the play. When we are on and we are feeling it, we can be pretty dangerous. Usually teams don't take too many penalties against us."
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Andre Burakovsky
Brooks Laich- Michael Latta - Tom Wilson
Nate Schmidt - John Carlson
Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratched: Stanislav Galiev
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
Shawn Matthias - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau
Peter Holland - Byron Froese - Joffrey Lupul
Michael Grabner - Nick Spaling - Brad Boyes
Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf
Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly
Martin Marincin - Roman Polak
Injured: Stephane Robidas (groin), James Reimer (lower body)
Scratched: Frank Corrado, Daniel Winnik
Status report: The Maple Leafs recalled goaltender Garret Sparks from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League to be Bernier's backup and assigned defenseman Scott Harrington to the Marlies.
Who's hot: Ovechkin has goals in back-to-back games and four goals in five games. Orlov has three goals in four games. Carlson has four assists in two games. Kuznetsov has five points in two games. … Komarov and van Riemsdyk each have three points in four games. Bozak had a goal and an assist against Boston on Monday.