CAPS GAME NIGHT, GAME 12: The Falling Leafs in DC

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, November 03, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

Toronto Maple Leafs (5-5-1-11, 3rd NE) v. Washington Capitals (7-4-0-14, 2nd SE)
7:00 pm  Verizon Center, Washington DC

The Toronto Maple Leafs, perhaps the second most storied franchise in all of hockey, got off to a tremedous start this season, winning their first four games.  But since that streak was broken in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders, the Leafs have lost six out of seven, falling faster than the leaves on the trees as temperatures start to feel like hockey season in America's Hockey Capital.

To make matters worse, Toronto has been shut out in two of their last three games.

Toronto is led in scoring by wingers Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur, with seven goals apiece.  No other skater has more than two, and therein lies the problem.

"Well, it's dried up a lot," general manager Brian Burke described his squad's offensive drought. "Obviously, we're having trouble putting the puck in the net right now. I have nothing pending that might solve that. We're going to have to solve it internally for now."

Another handicap facing the Leafs tonight is their captain, Dion Phaneuf, will miss the game (and likely many more) with a laceration of his leg, incurred Tuesday night against Ottawa in the second period after getting tied up with Ottawa's Peter Regin along the boards.

Tonight's matchup, the first of four between conference rivals, pits the struggling Leaf offense against one of the hottest goalies in the league, Michal Neuvirth for the Capitals.  The 22-year old Czech goalie is tied for the league lead with seven wins, and his 2.15 goals-against average ranks second among goaltenders with 10 or more starts.

Neuvirth was named October's rookie of the month, becoming just the third goaltender in franchise history to earn the award, joining Bob Mason (Dec. 1984) and Jim Carey (March 1995) with the honors.

Neuvirth made 27 saves in Washington's 7-2 win over Calgary on Saturday -- the eighth time he's allowed two goals or less as a starter in 2010, cementing his hold on the No. 1 goalie spot over Semyon Varlamov, who has struggled this season with groin injuries.  Varlamov is expected to back up Neuvirth tonight.

The Caps broke out in a big way Saturday, getting big numbers from the re-vamped top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.  All three had at least one goal and multi-point games in the breakout against Calgary. 

And the Caps power play, which has been ineffective all season, hit on three attempts with the extra-man, including one sequence where Ovechkin scored on a one-timer on a 5-on-3, then 12 seconds later did the same on the resulting 5-on-4 on the same set play.

Mike Green has returned to his regular patrol on the Caps blueline, even if his shoulder is still not 100 percent.  Green has been on the ice for just one goal against all season full-strength, which underlies his importance to the Caps.  But the defensive corps is still depleted, as Tom Poti and Tyler Sloan will both be inactive for tonight's game.  Brian Fahey was recalled once again from AHL Hershey and will dress for the affair.

The Capitals have a nice little homestand, with consecutive games against Toronto, Boston and Pihladelphia, to continue to progress offensively while staying strong in the areas that have them in the position they are now, namely goaltending and the penalty kill.


TOR:  LW Clarke MacArthur (7-3-10, +4), Phil Kessel (7-2-9, even), G Jean-Sebastien Gigure (4-3-1, 2.38, .905)
WAS:   LW Alex Ovechkin (7-6-13, +2), Alexander Semin (6-5-11, +5), G Michal Neuvirth (7-3-0, 2.15, .926)


TOR:  D Dion Phaneuf (leg-OUT), RW Colby Armstrong (finger-OUT)
WAS:  D Tom Poti (LBI-OUT), D Tyler Sloan (hip-OUT), C Marcus Johansson (hip-QUE), G Semyon Varlamov (groin-QUE)


TOR: GF/G: 2.27 (29th); GA/G: 2.36 (10th); PP: 12.8% (23rd); PK: 81.1% (21st); FO: 52.4% (7th)
WAS:  GF/G: 3.09 (7th); GA/G: 2.27 (T-4); PP: 16.7% (T-14th); PK: 90.2% (4th); FO: 49.8% (17th)

**Quotes in this story were pulled from various sources, including and AP