Capitals-Maple Leafs Preview
The slumping Maple Leafs could get back into that mix on Saturday night, as could the visiting Capitals, who also have a chance to move into a tie for the Southeast Division lead.
With Monday's NHL trade deadline creating plenty of uneasiness in dressing rooms around the league, the Maple Leafs (29-25-7) and Capitals (30-26-5) - who are tied with 65 points - are trying to ignore that distraction and simply focus on getting back on track following rough stretches.
Washington snapped its three-game skid and won for just the second time in eight games with Friday's 4-1 victory over Montreal, but the Maple Leafs are stuck in a 1-6-1 skid.
Toronto has provided only 15 goals of support during this stretch, but Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer haven't been much help with a combined 3.88 goals-against average. Neither can feel comfortable with his spot on the club after general manager Brian Burke told a Toronto radio station on Wednesday that he was in the market for a goalie.
But the Maple Leafs can't afford to worry about who's on the trading block as they have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Toronto could improve its postseason chances by defeating Washington then Florida on Tuesday to cap off its four-game homestand.
"We need to win those (next two) games,'' coach Ron Wilson said following Thursday's 2-1 loss to San Jose.
The Maple Leafs will try to avoid a season high-tying four-game slide at Air Canada Centre set Nov. 5-15.
Toronto ended that skid on Nov. 19 as Joffrey Lupul scored a goal and set up three in a 7-1 victory over Washington.
If the Maple Leafs can hand the Capitals a second straight loss at Air Canada Centre, and eighth-place Florida loses in regulation at Carolina on Saturday, Toronto will leapfrog the Panthers.
The Capitals could make an even bigger jump in the standings after catching Toronto on Friday.
With a victory over the Maple Leafs and regulation losses by Florida and Winnipeg, which hosts St. Louis, Washington will move into a first-place divisional tie with the Jets with two games in hand.
That might not be enough for Capitals general manager George McPhee.
"Everybody wants to make their team better. But it's somebody else's decision who's going to be traded, who's not,'' said Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 25th goal of the season on Friday following a one-game absence due to a lower-body injury. "If George is going to do something, I think it's going to be better for our club.''
So is having Ovechkin find the back of the net. Washington is 14-4-2 when the two-time MVP scores.
Ovechkin has no goals in two games versus Toronto this season, but he assisted on one of Dennis Wideman's two scores in Washington's 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs on Dec. 9.
Wideman's third goal in that game was later wiped out by the league and given to Brooks Laich.
Michael Neuvirth figures to be in net for Washington following Friday's 30-save performance. He stopped eight of 11 shots as a second-period replacement for Tomas Vokoun on Nov. 19.
Gustavsson made a career high-tying 40 saves in that contest, but Reimer is expected to get the nod from Wilson on Saturday.
Reimer turned aside 21 of 25 shots on Dec. 9.