Surging Leafs host slumping Capitals
The Toronto Maple Leafs will attempt to build on two strong defensive road efforts as they return home to host the Washington Capitals Monday night (7:30 p.m. ET) at the Air Canada Centre.
In the process, the Leafs finally appear settled on their No. 1 goalie for the season.
Vesa Toskala, who has outplayed the struggling Andrew Raycroft, helped his maligned defence to a pair of consecutive road wins with solid performances against the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers.
After making 23 saves during Thursday's 5-2 victory in Pittsburgh, Toskala backstopped the Leafs to a 4-1 win over the defensive-minded Rangers with 32 stops two nights later.
Toronto (5-4-3), which sports the second-ranked offence with 46 goals, is relying on Toskala to help a defence — near the bottom of most NHL statistics — recover from a rough start. The Leafs have allowed 45 goals and are tied with the Atlanta Thrashers for the most in the NHL.
"We needed it," coach Paul Maurice said. "The great part about being on the road is we were certainly more relaxed."
Nik Antropov and John Pohl helped the cause against the Rangers with a goal apiece for the Leafs, whose 46 goals put them one behind Carolina for the league lead.
Antropov continues to be one of the early season surprises for the Leafs. The oft-injured centre is among the NHL leaders with eight goals and 15 points.
Captain Mats Sundin is the only Leaf player more productive than Antropov, netting six goals, 12 assists and 18 points. Sundin has also been dominant against the Capitals in his last 14 games against them, with eight goals and nine assists.
Washington (4-6-0) will try to avoid a second three-game losing skid of the season. The team has lost six of its last seven games after beginning the season with three consecutive wins.
The Capitals, in the middle of a three-game road trip, dropped a 4-3 decision to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.
Despite the loss, Alex Ovechkin remained hot with two assists. Washington was playing without captain Chris Clark (ear injury), defenceman Tom Poti (strained groin) and lost winger Alexander Semin in the second period after he aggravated a sprained knee.
Semin had signed a two-year contract extension with the team prior to Saturday's contest with the Blues.
Semin missed six of the team's first seven games and isn't expected to play against the Leafs.
The Capitals have also struggled at the Air Canada Centre in recent years, going 2-5-0 with one tie in their last eight games.
With files from the Associated Press