After showing some grit and sincere determination on Saturday night against the Boston Bruins, the Leafs (9-12-2-2) now head to Washington to play the dreaded Washington Capitals (18-8-1-1) tonight. This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams, with the last meeting (November 3rd) going to the Washington Capitals in a shootout with the winning goal coming from Alexander Semin, with a final score of 5-4.
The Leafs are coming into tonight’s game with a record of 4-5-1-0 in the past ten games. The Capitals are coming in off a two game losing streak, and having gone 5-4-1 in their past ten games. At home, the Capitals are incredibly strong, with a record of 12-2-0-1. In contrast, the Leafs sport a poor away record of 2-7-0-1. Make no mistake about it, the Leafs are in for a tough bout tonight.
In the past ten meetings, the Leafs are a surprising 5-4-0-1, however in Washington they have only been able to win twice out of six attempts in the past 10 meetings. In the past ten meetings, the home team has won 7 of the 10.
In terms of the line-up for the Leafs tonight, they will ice a line-up that is relatively the same as that which was iced on Saturday night against the Bruins. Kessel will continue to play centre on the top line between MacArthur and Armstrong. Kadri has been bumped from the fourth line to the third line, and will centre Sjostrom and Bozak. The fourth line will consist of Tim Brent between Orr and Rosehill.
In net, Jonas Gustavsson will represent the Leafs. James Reimer has been recalled from the Marlies in the wake of another groin injury on behalf of Giguere, who re-injured his groin in the victory against the Bruins on Saturday night. Reports indicate that the injury is not severe, and he should be back shortly.
With regards to the meeting tonight, the Leafs will face a powerhouse team on the road, where the Leafs have struggled immensely this season. I’ll get into their poor road record shortly, however I will begin by discussing the scoring situation for the Leafs. The Leafs have only potted 16 goals on the road this year, out of a total of 10 games. That translates into approximately 1.6 goals per game on the road. If they have any chance to win tonight, or any chance of improving upon their chances of making the playoffs, they will need to improve on their road record. In terms of scoring per period for both teams, the following chart is provided:
As usual, the Leafs tend to give up the majority of their goals in the opening period, and on many occasions this year, they have fallen flat to open a game. This has always led to an uphill battle for the Leafs which often end up with them losing the game. The Capitals tend to give up the majority of their goals in the second period, where the Leafs tend to score the majority of their goals. Washington also tends to score the majority of their goals in the second and third periods, where the Leafs have better goals against average. This is in line with their usual strategy of sucking in the first period, and showing up in the second and third periods.
In terms of scoring the first goal and being scored on first, the following charts are provided:
Both teams sport a relatively equal proportion of games in which they score first, or have been scored on first. However, the big difference lies in the winning percentages for each team when they score first or trail first.
When scoring first, Washington has won approximately 75% of their games. The Leafs, in contrast, win approximately 60% of their games. When trailing first, the Capitals have an impressive winning record of 53%! The Leafs, in contrast, win about 20% of their games when trailing first. What does this mean? Well, if the Leafs score first, they better be sure to keep the pressure on the Capitals, as a good start for the Leafs seems to have no bearing on the way the Capitals play their game. They are quite fine with falling behind, as they still tend to win games.
In terms of scoring for each team, the following charts are provided:
Both teams get the majority of their points from the four players listed above for each team. The Capitals are led by Ovechkin and Semin, both of whom have nearly double the points of the Leafs’ top two scorers. There is a huge differential in total points for the remaining roster between the Caps and Leafs. The Caps roster (outside of the top 4) have 47 more points than the Leafs other roster players. This speaks volumes of the ability of the Capitals to pot goals against the opposition, and will likely make a tough night for the Leafs.
In terms of the “Leaf Killers”, the following chart is provided. There is little to no surprise here.
Ovechkin and Semin are better than point a game against the Leafs, with Backstrom coming very close to point a game. The key to the Leafs success tonight will be shutting down these three players, however this is almost impossible against a team like the Caps. Expect to see both players rack up at least a point each tonight.
In goal, Neuvirth will represent the Caps whereas Gustavsson will represent the Leafs. A graph showing each goalies’ respective wins and losses are provided below:
Both goalies do not have much experience playing the opposition. Gustavsson has never won a game against the Caps, and will be looking to change that trend tonight.
In terms of goals against average and save percentage for each goalie, the following charts are provided:
Gustavsson’s away goals against average sits at 3, with a 90% save percentage. Against the Caps, Gustavsson has a 4.07 goals against average, and an approximate 85% save percentage. Neuvirth asports a home goals against average of close to 3, with a save percentage of near 95%. Against the Leafs, however, he has a high goals against average (almost 5!) and a low save percentage of below 85%. One can easily suspect that this will be a high scoring affair, and if the Leafs forwards can actually get some offense going tonight, I suspect that the final score will result in 9 or 10 goals total.
With regards to specialty teams, the following chart is provided:
The Leafs sport a terrible road power play of approximately 6.7%, with a penalty kill on the road of only around 64%! The Leafs truly need to improve upon their specialty teams on the road, however it will be difficult against a team like the Caps, who have a home power play of around 25% and a penalty kill of around 85%
Overall, I’m not expecting the Leafs to pull out a win tonight, but anything can happen with this team. Consistency has not been a trait one can use to describe the Leafs this year, so who knows what exactly will happen against a team like the Capitals. If the Leafs build off their character, come-from-behind win against the Bruins, then it could be a tight game with the Leafs potentially winning it in a low scoring affair (ie. a 3-2 win). If the Caps win, I expect it to be a high scoring game (9 or 10 goals total).