WASHINGTON -- Scoring at even strength has not been one of the Washington Capitals' strong suits this season.
In 68 games, the Capitals have scored 117 goals 5-on-5, 19th in the NHL, and their top six has done little to boost those numbers as of late.
Since returning from the League's two-week break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Washington's top-six forwards, recently consisting of Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Dustin Penner, Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer, have scored five 5-on-5 goals among them in nine games.
"Going down the stretch here, teams are tightening up defensively, teams are making sure that those matchups are on the ice, their top [defensemen] against our top forwards," said Brouwer, who has seven 5-on-5 goals in 68 games after scoring nine in 47 games last season. "It only gets tougher from here.
"Those guys have to work harder, [Ovechkin's] line, my line, try and create, work to get open, work to create chances, work to create opportunities."
Perhaps in an attempt to facilitate offense, coach Adam Oates has made some alterations to his top two lines for Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had three assists against the Vancouver Canucks in a 4-3 win Friday, will skate on the second line.
Laich is out with a nagging groin injury that has hampered him since last season. The 30-year-old has missed two of the past five games and saw limited minutes in the third period Friday as a precaution.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak will start for the Capitals, his fifth straight start. Goalie James Reimer will start for the Maple Leafs in place of Jonathan Bernier (lower body).
Here are the projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Capitals:
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – David Clarkson
Mason Raymond – Nikolai Kulemin – Troy Bodie
Carter Ashton - Jay McClement – Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – Cody Franson
Tim Gleason – Morgan Rielly
Scratched: Paul Ranger
Injured: Peter Holland (illness), Dave Bolland (ankle), Jonathan Bernier (lower body)
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Evgeny Kuznetsov – Casey Wellman – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward
Dustin Penner – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Jack Hillen – Mike Green
Dmitry Orlov – Connor Carrick
Scratched: John Erskine
Injured: Brooks Laich (groin), Mikhail Grabovski (ankle), Aaron Volpatti (shoulder)