Preview: Washington at Toronto
The Toronto Maple Leafs have refused to let two straight setbacks extend to a three-game losing skid on eight separate occasions this season. The Maple Leafs look to nip their latest two-game streak in the bud on Thursday when they bid for a season sweep of the visiting Washington Capitals.
Although Toronto dropped the final two contests of its season-high six-game road trip (3-2-1), coach Mike Babcock generally was pleased with the team’s overall body of work. “I liked our road trip a lot,” Babcock said after the Maple Leafs settled for a 3-2 overtime setback to white-hot St. Louis. “I didn’t like our game in Phoenix (a 2-0 loss to Arizona). Other than that, I liked our game every night.” Washington has alternated losses and wins in the first four contests of its six-game trek, although superstar captain Alex Ovechkin pushed his NHL-leading goal total to 42 with four in the last three outings — including two in a 3-2 victory at Los Angeles on Monday. The three-time Hart Trophy recipient joined Russian countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom in recording a goal and two assists this season against Toronto, although former Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby permitted nine goals on 64 shots to lose both encounters.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCS Washington, TVAS, TSN4 (Toronto)
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (33-20-7): Washington waived pending unrestricted free agent Devante Smith-Pelly on Wednesday after initially planning to part ways with fellow forward Dmitrij Jaskin. “Right now, there is a lot of movement going on, especially for teams that are salary-capped strapped like we are,” coach Todd Reirden said. “Earlier in the day, we had made the decision to put Jaskin on waivers and we changed our mind and were notified during practice. We made that adjustment and now Devante has been put on waivers.” The 26-year-old Smith-Pelly has eight points (four goals, four assists) in 54 games this season after scoring seven goals and setting up one other during the Capitals’ run to their first Stanley Cup title in 2017-18.
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (36-19-4): William Nylander, who has struggled mightily since signing a six-year contract extension, publicly welcomed the added responsibilities that come with playing the center position with Nazem Kadri sidelined with a concussion. “I thought we were able to create some chances, so it was fun,” the 22-year-old Nylander told the Toronto Sun of his line of Andreas Johnsson and Connor Brown. “I’m feeling pretty good, skating well and the chances are there. They’re coming, that’s all you can say.” The 25-year-old Brown had a pair of assists in Toronto’s 4-2 win over Washington on Oct. 13 and two more in a 6-3 victory versus the Capitals on Jan. 23.
1. Toronto C Auston Matthews has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last four games overall and three (two goals, one assist) against Washington this season.
2. Capitals D John Carlson has four of his club-best 45 assists in his last three contests.
3. Maple Leafs RW Kasperi Kapanen has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last five games.