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Caps' top priority against Toronto will be shutting down Auston Matthews

Caps' top priority against Toronto will be shutting down Auston Matthews

As the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2016 draft, forward Auston Matthews entered the league with lofty expectations, especially considering he was taken by one of the NHL’s flagship franchises in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Incredibly, despite how unreasonable some of those expectations may be, midway through the season Matthews is living up the hype.

“He's an elite player,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “He's got size, he's got the incredible vision and poise and hands for a young man.”

“There isn't a skill that he doesn't possess,” Matt Niskanen said.

After an incredible debut in which he scored four goals, Matthews’ production tapered off with only two goals in his next 18 games.

RELATED: Chorney remains in Caps' lineup for tilt with Leafs

But the rookie phenom has exploded again and now has 20 goals on the season including six in his last six games and two in Sunday’s Centennial Classic. He now leads all rookies in both points and goals, even Winnipeg sharpshooter Patrick Laine who has found the back of the net 19 times this season, and he’s doing it without elite level linemates.

Matthews has spent almost the entire season on a line that features Zach Hyman, a player with only 22 career points and 52 games of NHL experience to his name.

“Auston Matthews is carrying his own weight,” Trotz said. “He's not protected. He's all that and that's pretty exceptional for a 19-year-old player coming in here.”

What makes Matthews so dangerous is his vision. To a man, the Caps felt that was the most impressive skill Matthews possesses in what is clearly a loaded arsenal.

“The presence to know how a goaltender will react off a scramble play and how he knows what's going on around him and what are his options,” Trotz said. “He's able to process it at such a high rate that it makes it look really easy and it's not that easy. Trust me.”

“He's got the skill to execute the plays that he can see,” Karl Alzner said. “A lot of times you have one or the other and he seems to have them both.”

Stopping Matthews will be the Caps’ biggest priority Tuesday as he is Toronto’s leading scorer with 32 points. Pretty impressive for a 19-year-old rookie.

“We have been seeing what the hype was all last year and even before that,” Alzner said. “It's fun to watch but also [a] real fun challenge for us.”

MORE CAPITALS: NHLPA boss 'optimistic' players will participate in Olympics

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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Around the time when the Colorado Avalanche scored its fourth goal to take a 4-0 lead on Monday, the Twitter questions started rolling in. “When is Michal Kempny coming back?”

The Caps’ top-pair left defenseman has yet to play this season after tearing his hamstring in March. His loss was a major factor in the team’s first-round defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs and has led to inconsistent defensive play to start the season.

But the Caps’ defense is going to have to figure out how to defend against the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday without Kempny as head coach Todd Reirden declared after practice on Tuesday that Kempny will not play.

“We're getting close,” Reirden said. “That's at least today's report on him without having spoken to our trainer or team doctor anything right now. I just know that he took another step in terms of visually from me that he is getting closer and closer to game action.”

At the start of training camp, the hope was that Kempny would be able to return for the start of the season. He was not. The team elected not to place him on long-term injured reserve which requires a player to miss 10 games. Now seven games into the season, Kempny’s timetable remains uncertain.

When asked if he was hopeful Kempny could return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, Reirden did not sound all that confident.

“I am, yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful every time I walk into the training room.”

For the timeline to keep getting pushed back has raised concerns over whether Kempny has suffered a setback in his recovery, but Reirden insists that is not the case.

“There's not nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great.”

Kempny was cleared for contact on Oct. 2. and has been a full participant at practice ever since. Getting him back to a point where the doctors and the team can feel comfortable about getting him into the lineup, however, has proven difficult.

Even after losing four of their first seven games to start the season including all three home games, Reirden says the team is committed to remaining patient and cautious with Kempny’s recovery.

“It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” he said. “I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play.”