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.
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