The Toronto Maple Leafs have proven their offense is a force with which to be reckoned. Their defense and goaltending, however, are only now beginning to come around.
Vesa Toskala looks to further solidify his hold on the starting goaltending job Monday night when the Maple Leafs host the Washington Capitals.
Toronto acquired Toskala from San Jose on June 22 with the hope that he would become the team's undisputed starter after Andrew Raycroft struggled most of last year. After a slow beginning to his first season with the Leafs, Toskala has been very good in his last two appearances and figures to make his fourth consecutive start Monday.
After stopping 23 shots Thursday in a 5-2 victory at Pittsburgh, Toskala made 32 saves in Saturday's 4-1 win over the New York Rangers. Chad Kilger and Pavel Kubina each had a goal and an assist to back him.
Toronto (5-4-3) has won two straight - both on the road - after winning just once in its previous five games (1-2-2).
"We needed it," coach Paul Maurice said. "The great part about being on the road is we were certainly more relaxed."
Nik Antropov and John Pohl also scored for the Leafs, whose 46 goals put them one behind Carolina for the league lead.
Antropov has been of the new season's biggest surprises. The oft-injured center, who had a career-high 45 points in 2002-03, ranks among the NHL leaders with eight goals and 15 points.
The only member of the Maple Leafs more productive than Antropov has been captain Mats Sundin, the team leader with 12 assists and 18 points. Sundin also has eight goals and nine assists in his last 14 games against Washington.
Toronto has needed to be strong offensively because it has been one of the league's worst defensive teams, allowing 45 goals - tied with Atlanta for the most in the NHL.
The Capitals (4-6-0) hope to avoid their second three-game losing streak of the season. They have dropped six of seven after opening the season with three straight wins.
Washington dropped the opener of a three-game road trip Saturday, 4-3 to St. Louis.
Although star forward Alex Ovechkin stayed hot with two assists, it wasn't enough for the Capitals, who were missing captain Chris Clark and defenseman Tom Poti and lost left wing Alexander Semin early in the game.
Clark suffered an ear injury in Friday's loss to Vancouver and Poti missed his second straight game with a strained groin.
After signing a two-year contract extension earlier Saturday, Semin aggravated the sprained right ankle that forced him to miss six of the team's first seven games in the final minutes of the first period. He is unlikely to play Monday.
Without Semin, who scored 38 goals last season, the Capitals have been limited to 24 goals in 10 games. They have scored more than three goals only once this season.
Ovechkin, though, has two goals and five assists in his last three games.
Despite their offensive woes, the Caps have been very good defensively. They held their fifth straight opponent under 30 shots, limiting St. Louis to 18 - their lowest total since they gave up 17 in a 3-2 victory over Buffalo on Oct. 26, 2005.
Toronto is 5-2-0 with one tie in its last eight home games against Washington.