Caps Will Try to Quell Kessel and Co.Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Tonight’s Hockey Night in Canada match-up at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto features a pair of struggling teams that are each 1-4-1 in their last six games. A mere six points separates the five teams in Washington’s Southeast Division and just five points separates the five clubs in Toronto’s Northeast Division, so both teams are eager to get back on track tonight. The Leafs have lost four straight on home ice, and they head off on a four-game road trip immediately after tonight’s game. The first stop is in Carolina where Toronto faces the listing Hurricanes at 5 pm on Sunday. The Leafs will play six of their next seven games out on the road, and are likely to be quite desperate for a home triumph tonight. Washington has dropped five of its last seven road games and has tallied just twice thus far in the two previous games on its current trip. The Caps are eager to rebound from a lethargic performance in Winnipeg (a 4-1 loss) on Thursday and to salvage something from the three-game journey. Toronto has surrendered a combined total of 25 goals in its last six games while Washington has scored just a dozen goals in its last half dozen games. Despite their recent offensive struggles, the Caps are still averaging 3.29 goals per game, the third best figure in the league. The Caps hope a power play goal or two might help jumpstart their dormant attack here tonight. The Leafs have killed less than three-quarters (74.3%) of the power play chances they’ve faced this season and Toronto ranks 29th in the league in that department. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau juggled his lines up for tonight’s tilt, re-jiggering his top six forwards. But perhaps the most important move in the forward mix was reuniting the trio of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward. Boudreau doesn’t have the final change in tonight’s road tilt, but he’ll probably try to get that threesome out against the Leafs top unit as much as possible. Toronto’s top line features wingers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Kessel enters the game as the league’s leading scorer with 25 points and Lupul is tied for 10th at 20 points. Leafs coach Ron Wilson uses both Tim Connolly and Tyler Bozak in the middle of that line. With Toronto’s forward corps currently decimated by injuries, expect to see a lot of Kessel and Lupul tonight. Kessel has skated more than 25 minutes in each of Toronto’s last two games and Lupul’s ice time has been right around the 25-minute mark in each of the Leafs’ last two games. Shutting down Kessel and Lupul will be critical for the Capitals. None of the other Leafs in the lineup tonight has more than eight points on the season. Boudreau’s lineup shuffles will also result in a top unit of Alex Ovechkin with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin and a second line of Nicklas Backstrom centering for rookie Cody Eakin and Troy Brouwer. It’s entirely possible that the Laich line will draw more ice at even-strength than either of those other two lines. It’s also likely that the fourth line of Matt Hendricks, Jeff Halpern and Mike Knuble will chip in with the checking responsibilities against Kessel and Lupul. Tomas Vokoun gets the start in goal for Washington tonight. In five career starts at Air Canada Centre, Vokoun is 3-2 with a shutout, a 1.81 GAA and a .928 save pct. Jonas Gustavsson gets the call in the cage for the Leafs. He is 11-14-6 with a shutout, a 2.94 GAA and a .900 save pct. in 33 career appearances (30 starts) in his home barn.
Lately, the Washington Capitals team we’ve seen on the ice doesn’t resemble much the team that we saw over the final 50 games of the 2010-11 regular season. Spurred to change their ways by an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) last December, the Caps battened down their defensive hatches the rest of