Capitals-Maple Leafs Preview

The Washington Capitals seem to be coming to grips with the fact

they’re not the offensive juggernaut the league is used to


If it makes a difference once the postseason rolls around,

they’ll be happy to embrace it.

The now-opportunistic Capitals are getting used to winning

low-scoring affairs heading into Saturday night’s road game against

the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are trying to turn around their own

reputation as a team devoid of defense.

Washington (26-14-8) scored 313 goals last season, the most by

any team since 1995-96, but all that added up to was a first-round

flameout for coach Bruce Boudreau’s club.

The Capitals are a stunning 29th in goals per game since Dec. 1,

averaging 2.13. But they’re getting used to winning without Alex

Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom piloting a team that rarely slows

down offensively.

Washington was 7-12-2 when scoring three goals or fewer through

Dec. 18, but since then, the team is 7-2-4 in those games after

Thursday’s 2-1 win over the New York Islanders.

“We’re not scoring, so we’d better be aware of the defensive

end,” Boudreau said.

It’s been 12 games since the Caps have scored more than three,

but Boudreau doesn’t see a prolonged drought as the worst thing for

a club that hasn’t seen its high-scoring tendencies translate into

postseason success.

“Eventually they will start scoring again at the rate they are

capable,” he said. “If they learn to play defense and then they get

the balance with the offense, our team will be in good shape.”

Much of Washington’s offensive drought can be attributed to the

struggles of Backstrom, who had gone 21 games without a goal before

scoring the game-winner in the second period Thursday off an assist

from Ovechkin. Backstrom had 33 goals in 2009-10 and 11 through his

first 26 games this season.

Backstrom has never done much offensively versus Toronto

(19-22-5), posting two goals in 14 career games. He does, however,

have 11 assists.

Ovechkin has only four goals in his last 19 games overall, but

he has an eight-game point streak against the Maple Leafs which

includes eight goals and 11 assists.

Washington hasn’t had much trouble scoring versus Toronto this

season – the teams have split a pair of shootouts – and the Leafs

are giving up 3.26 goals per game since the start of December,

fifth-worst in the league.

Ovechkin had two assists in a 5-4 win Nov. 3 and a goal in a 5-4

loss Dec. 6, when the Caps blew a three-goal lead in the third


That disheartening defeat was part of an eight-game losing

streak for Washington that also included a 7-0 defeat at Madison

Square Garden, where the Maple Leafs had their own rock-bottom

moment Wednesday.

But Toronto responded impressively from that 7-0 loss to the

Rangers, returning home the following night and scoring the game’s

final four goals in a 5-2 victory over Anaheim.

“Tonight we played with pride,” said forward Clarke MacArthur,

who had a goal and two assists. “It’s hard to sleep after a game

like that (in New York). We all have better in here. It’s not fair

to the goalies, it’s not fair to anybody to come out and leave guys

hung out to dry like we did.”

MacArthur scored twice in the comeback victory in the nation’s

capital last month, including the game-tying goal with 1:24


The Capitals’ defense hasn’t been soft in the third period

lately, though. Washington is outscoring opponents 11-2 in the

final 20 minutes of its last 10 games.

The Caps could be getting healthy as well. Forwards Matt Bradley

and Alexander Semin and goaltender Michal Neuvirth practiced

Friday, though it’s unclear if any of them will return