Capitals-Maple Leafs Preview

While they’re not even at the halfway point of the season, the

Washington Capitals are starting to pull away from the pack in the

Southeast Division.

The Capitals look for their eighth win in nine games Saturday

night when they open a four-game trip against a Toronto Maple Leafs

team seeking to win three in a row at home for the first time in

almost two years.

Having won the last two Southeast titles, the Capitals (20-6-6)

were expected to be the class of the division again this season and

they have not disappointed. Washington has opened a 13-point lead

over second-place Atlanta while no other first-place club has more

than a three-point advantage on its closest pursuer.

The Capitals increased their lead with a 4-3 overtime victory

over Carolina on Friday, rebounding from a shutout loss in their

previous game. Alexander Semin scored twice and Mike Green

connected with 3:44 left in the extra session as Washington avoided

a home defeat against the league’s worst team.

“I got lucky there and was just excited it went in,” Green

said. “I didn’t have a great game, so it’s a great feeling.”

Alex Ovechkin had two assists after he was held without a point

for only the fourth time in 24 games this season in Wednesday’s 3-0

loss at Buffalo. The reigning two-time MVP has two goals and two

assists in two games this season against the Maple Leafs, helping

the Capitals to a 1-0-1 record. Ovechkin has 16 goals and eight

assists in 17 career games against Toronto (10-14-7).

Hardly needing any help with a league-leading 115 goals,

Washington’s offense received a boost Friday with the return of

right wing Mike Knuble, who missed 12 games with a broken

finger.

Semin continued his red-hot scoring with his fifth multigoal

game this season. He has four goals and six assists in his last

five games overall, and had two goals with an assist in

Washington’s 6-4 victory over Toronto on Oct. 3.

The Maple Leafs beat the Capitals 2-1 in a shootout at home on

Nov. 21 to end a five-game losing streak. That began Toronto’s

current 7-3-2 run that has put it back into the mix for a playoff

spot in the Eastern Conference.

Coach Ron Wilson credits several factors with the team’s

turnaround.

“We’ve gotten solid goaltending, defensemen have done a better

job, 5-on-5 up the ice creating turnovers and we’re a little bit

more confident in terms of finishing up opportunities. We still

have to work on our special teams but you’re always working on

something.”

One night after a 3-2 home victory over the New York Islanders,

the Leafs were unable to win three straight for the first time this

season as they fell 5-2 at Boston on Thursday.

Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin had third-period goals for

Toronto, which lost its seventh straight to the Bruins.

“We’ve only got one win in our division, which is awful,”

defenseman Ian White said. “We got spanked by these guys not even a

week ago. We were expecting to come in here and have a different

showing.”

A victory Saturday would give Toronto three straight wins at the

Air Canada Centre for the first time since Jan. 15-23, 2008.

Phil Kessel looks to regain his scoring touch after going a

season-high fourth straight game without a goal Thursday. Kessel

has 10 goals and 16 points despite playing only 19 games.