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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Maple Leafs

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Maple Leafs

The Capitals (9-3-0, 18 points) will look to keep the Toronto Maple Leafs (2-8-3, 7 points) at the bottom of the NHL standings when they face off tonight at Verizon Center (7 p.m., CSN-plus). Here are our AAA keys to the game:

It’s Hockey Night in Canada: You know the Leafs are in town when the visiting media outnumber local reporters. For the Caps who hail from Canada tonight’s game carries special meaning since it will be broadcast throughout Canada.

“Saturday nights were the fun nights as a kid when you could shovel off the driveway, skate on the backyard rink and come in and catch the three games that were on that night,” recalled Caps right wing Tom Wilson, who is from Toronto and will suit up on a fourth line with Brooks Laich and Michael Latta.

“It was huge,” said Latta, who is from Kitchener, Ontario and grew up a Leafs fan. “You had sleepovers with your buddies and watched the Leafs play and catch the late game if you could stay up. It was a blast.”

Live from D.C., it’s Saturday Night: Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby must love playing on Saturday nights. In his career with the Caps he is 30-11-5 with eight shutouts, a 2.10 GAA and a .928 save percentage on Saturdays. Holtby has registered more wins, shutouts and has his lowest GAA on Saturdays than any other night of the week. 

But Holtby isn’t alone. Latta says the Caps’ penchant for winning on Saturday nights has become somewhat of a locker room battle cry.  

“We always joke around that on Saturday nights in D.C. we don’t lose,” Latta said. “It started way before I got here. Nicky (Backstrom) and Greenie (Mike Green) say it’s part of our tradition. Any time you play on a Saturday you know it’s going to be a big crowd, they’re going to be ramped up, maybe a few beers before.”

Time for the rookie?: The Leafs are coming off a 2-1 overtime defeat to the Red Wings Friday night in which goaltender James Reimer surrendered a soft goal by Henrik Zetterberg from just inside the blue line. Reimer is 2-2-2 with a 2.69 GAA since replacing injured starter Jonathan Bernier.

Does that mean rookie Antoine Bibeau will make his first NHL start tonight against Alex Ovechkin and the high-scoring Capitals? That’s a call for head coach Mike Babcock, who might be hesitant to start the 21-year-old rookie netminder, who stands 6-foot-3, 207 pounds.

Falling Leafs: Mike Babcock knew he faced an uphill challenge when he took over a team that has reached the playoffs just once in the last 10 seasons and it appears the first-year coach will have a difficult time getting this team back to the post-season. 

“Any new coaching staff wants to get accountability back in the group, the way you want to play,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “I know with our group last year we had off-and-on issues for the first 20 games, what is demanded on a daily basis, what is acceptable. It’s a process, especially when you have a new culture come in. The first 20 games is a learning process. It takes some time, so just be patient.”

Patience is often easier prescribed than taken. Just ask the fans in Toronto, who have not seen a Stanley Cup since 1967 and have seen just one playoff series in the last 10 years. 

“A lot of my friends and family have converted into being Caps fans,” Wilson said. “They jumped ship and now they’re following the Caps. It’s tough. It’s a city where there’s tons of pressure. Every (Maple Leaf) I speak to says it’s crazy there. You’ve got to love the passion the fans and the media and the whole city brings, but obviously when things aren’t going well it can be a little bit much and hard on the guys.”

Tre Kronor: The Capitals will try out an all-Swedish line of left wing Marcus Johansson, center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Andre Burakovsky tonight against the Leafs. Justin Williams, who has occupied that right wing spot for the first 12 games, will play on a third line with Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle.

“I think we all kind of think hockey the same way,” Johansson said. “We had a few shifts together (Thursday night) and so far it’s worked pretty good. Andre is a good goal scorer. He’s got that great shot and he can skate and he can move the puck. I think we’re all pretty similar out there. Playing with Nicky you know you can get the puck at any time. It’s going to be fun.”

Asked what language will be spoken when the three Swedes hit the ice, Johansson smiled.

“We’ll speak Swedish to make it confusing for the other team,” he said.

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin wants to break Fedorov's record tonight

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Being an Olympic hero is not all T.J. Oshie has in common with 2018 U.S. Women's hockey team

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Being an Olympic hero is not all T.J. Oshie has in common with 2018 U.S. Women's hockey team

Four years ago, Capitals forward T.J. Oshie was the shootout king in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. This time around Gigi Marvin was one of the Americans who provided the extra-time heroics for Team USA at Pyeongchang, carrying the women’s hockey team to the gold medal.

Ironically enough, they both were the King and Queen of their high school’s dance back in 2005.

Marvin and Oshie both went to Warroad High School in Minnesota. They graduated from the same class in 2005. Nearly every high school in the country would wish for just one Olympian, this one got two legends in one class.

Oshie famously took the puck six times for Team USA in a shootout to beat Russia back in 2014. Marvin scored the first tally of the shootout in the gold medal game against Canada. The United States would go on to win the match in seven rounds.

Oshie would go on to congratulate his fellow Warroad alum after the match.

Whoever cast the deciding votes, must have known that these two destined for glory. One could now call them the King and Queen of Olympic shootouts.

RELATED: USA WOMEN WIN GOLD OVER RIVAL CANADA

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Caps prospect watch: Boyd dedicates 4-goal performance to daughter after week in the hospital

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USA TODAY Sports

Caps prospect watch: Boyd dedicates 4-goal performance to daughter after week in the hospital

It would have been understandable if Travis Boyd struggled this past week. Something more important was on his mind.

Boyd spent the week in the hospital with his daughter, Hayden, who had been experiencing pain in her throat. He spent the enitre week in the hospital, not leaving until Hershey's game against Laval.

Boyd turned this trial into something incredible as he scored four goals Friday in Hershey's 6-3 win.

Boyd spoke about the ordeal with Zach Fisch of the Bears Radio Network (transcription via RMNB).

“It actually started after the game last Sunday against Rochester," he said. "I went straight from the rink to Urgent Care and then from Urgent Care to the ER. Never left the hospital until Friday morning. We had a successful surgery on Thursday night. Basically just a bad infection in her throat that had to be surgically removed. They had to surgically go in and kind of remove the bacteria and drain out the fluids. Everything went well. She’s doing well.”

Following the game, Boyd dedicated his performance to Hayden.

A four-goal game at the AHL level would have been an incredible accomplishment on its own. The fact that it came during such a trying time for him makes this a truly inspirational story.

You can watch highlights of the game including all four of Boyd's goals here:

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S UPDATED CAPS’ PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

Other prospect notes:

  • In the Bears' game Friday against Laval, Riley Barber dropped the gloves with Markus Eisenchmid.  Barber was given an extra minor and game misconduct for instigating the fight in the final five minutes of the game. That penalty carries with it an automatic one-game suspension which Barber served Saturday. Here's a look at the fight.

  • Liam O'Brien had a pair of two-goal games over the week, scoring twice against Laval Friday and then two more against Toronto on Monday. Of his four goals, three of them were empty netters.
  • As the Capitals prepare for their Stadium Series game in Annapolis on March 3, Annapolis mayor Gavin Buckley—a native of Perth, Australia—made a plea to see Nathan Walker recalled for the game.  “I’ll have to put a quick shout out to the one Australian that’s playing for the Caps now, Nathan Walker. If you could just bring him up for this game, that’d be great. Because an Australian being in a hockey game is like a Jamaican bobsled team. It doesn’t happen very often.”

  • Brian Pinho was honored Friday in Providence College's Senior Night. He has served as captain of the team this season and as an assistant captain in his junior year. He spoke with The Cowl on what being a leader on the team means to him. "I think being a leader of this team is a great honor, but also a huge responsibility. I try to keep everything fun at the rink, while also bringing some intensity and competing hard every day.” You can read the full story here.
  • Goalie Adam Carlson, who was on loan to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, was reassigned to the Kansas City Mavericks also of the ECHL. He started two games for his new team and turned aside 42 of the 48 total shots he faced.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in his week's updated rankings.