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Capitals' new top line paying dividends

by Adam Vingan

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Having started a stretch of six games in nine days with a 4-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, the Washington Capitals opted not to hold a morning skate Friday ahead of their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Their win Thursday, clinched by left wing Eric Fehr's deflection goal with 51.5 seconds remaining in regulation, was the Capitals' first of the new year, snapped a four-game winless streak (0-2-2) and allowed them to reclaim third place in the Metropolitan Division from the idle New York Rangers.

Capitals coach Adam Oates will address the media prior to the game, but his lineup likely will remain the same from Thursday. The reconfigured line of Fehr, center Mikhail Grabovski and right wing Alex Ovechkin meshed exceptionally well, accounting for Washington's two even-strength goals, both scored by Fehr, and generating several dominant shifts.

Goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 33 saves in making his 10th start in Washington's past 14 games. With a busy schedule ahead, Braden Holtby could get the start in goal Friday.

One problem area the Capitals will need to key in on is their recent penchant for blowing two-goal leads; after letting a 3-1 first-period lead slip away against Tampa Bay, Washington has blown five two-goal leads in its past eight games.

As for the Maple Leafs, who also did not skate Friday, they are in the midst of a Winter Classic hangover. Since defeating the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout on New Year's Day, Toronto has lost three straight by a combined score of 18-5, including a 6-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday that dropped the Leafs out of playoff position for the first time this season.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that things aren't going anywhere near what our expectations are, that's for sure," coach Randy Carlyle told reporters.

Defenseman Jake Gardiner was a healthy scratch Thursday, the second time this season that's happened. Carlyle said he felt the 23-year-old "has struggled in the last couple games." He could draw back into the lineup Friday.

Jonathan Bernier likely will start in goal for the Maple Leafs; James Reimer allowed six goals on 36 shots against Carolina in his first start since Dec. 21.

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