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Capitals' Grabovski returns to face Maple Leafs

by Mike Battaglino

CAPITALS (12-10-1) at MAPLE LEAFS (13-8-1)


Last 10: Washington 6-3-1; Toronto 5-4-1

Season series: This is the first of three games. The Toronto Maple Leafs won the first two last season before the Washington Capitals won the third.

Big story: Mikhail Grabovski returns to Toronto as a third-line forward for Washington, where he signed a one-year contract this summer after the Maple Leafs bought him out July 4.

"For me, it's the place where I grew up like a hockey player in the NHL," Grabovski told The Canadian Press this week. "The motivation is where [it's like your] hometown."

Grabovski had harsh words for Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, in particular, after leaving, unhappy with the role he was used in toward the end of his time in Toronto.

"We know he's a great player, and he's a good friend of all of ours," Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak said Friday. "He's having a great year, and we're happy for him. It looks like he found a really good spot for himself, and I think he enjoys it there, so it'll be fun to play against him. I'm sure he'll be wanting to put on a good show here in Toronto."

Carlyle did not address the media Friday.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Grabovski scored a hat trick in his first game with Washington, but has since moved down the lineup, landing on a line with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. They have combined for 16 goals and 19 assists since coach Adam Oates put them together, according to the Washington Post.

"He just give me [a chance to] do on the ice what I do all my life, what I like to do," Grabovski told CP. "That's the best way I can play and enjoy the hockey."

After an assist in a 3-2 home loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Friday, Grabovski has seven goals and 12 assists in 23 games. He had nine goals and seven assists in 48 games for Toronto in 2012-13.

"He got bought out, kicked to the curb, and you see him respond so well," Chimera told the Post. "It's a testament to the way he is. He's gone about the business side of this really well and he's been a good teammate here."

Grabovski signed a one-year, $3 million contract with Washington after Toronto bought out the final four years of a five-year, $27.5 million contract.

"I think it's been a good move for me here," Grabovski told the Post. "Of course I felt terrible when they buy out my contract, but right now I feel excellent because [the Capitals] give me liberties, so I can play my hockey and my style of hockey. You enjoy to play when people trust you and they give you a chance to play."

Maple Leafs: Toronto is expecting some added energy at Air Canada Centre with Grabovski's return.

"That's always the thing, with playing old teammates and old buddies, you want to give that little extra and show the crowd that you're still doing good," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said.

The Maple Leafs will try to control that emotion and stay out of the penalty box. In a 4-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, Toronto allowed two power-play goals; it has given up four in 12 times down in the past four games. Washington leads the NHL with 22 power-play goals.

"If we end up in the box, we just have to try to bear down on the PK and step it up from [the game Thursday]," Gunnarsson said.

The unit is without Bozak, who will miss his 12th game since being sidelined Oct. 25 with a hamstring injury. Forward Dave Bolland (ankle) is another penalty-killer the Maple Leafs miss; he has been out since Nov. 2.

Who's hot: Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin scored twice Friday to give his six in his past five games; he leads the NHL with 19. Defenseman John Carlson has five points (two goals) in his past five games. … Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri scored Thursday in his first game back after a three-game suspension; it ended a five-game drought. Forward Mason Raymond has six points (three goals) in a five-game streak. Signed as a free agent after a tryout, he is second on the team in scoring with 17 points (Phil Kessel, 21).

Injury report: Capitals defenseman Mike Green (lower body) returned to play Friday. Defensemen Jack Hillen (tibia) and John Erskine (upper body) are on injured reserve. … Defenseman Mark Fraser (lower body) skated Friday. Bolland (ankle) is on injured reserve.

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