The Toronto Maple Leafs, who play the Capitals Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, are a statistical oddity. Through their first ten games entering tonight's all-Ontario showdown with the Ottawa Senators, the Leafs have scored the same number of goals as they've allowed (23). After winning their first four games of the season, Toronto has dropped five of their last six games (1-4, with 1 overtime loss), and on top of that, they are also coming off one of the worst seasons in the long and glorious history of the franchise (30-38-14, 74 points, the second-lowest total in the NHL in 2009-10).
None of those numbers mean anything to Capitals head coach and Toronto native Bruce Boudreau. What he does remember is that with both teams going in opposite directions last season, the Leafs managed to split a four-game series with the Capitals, winning both games at the Air Canada Centre.
"I just remember going up there [last year] and they worked so hard against us," said Boudreau after this morning's practice at the Kettler Iceplex in reference to a 6-3 shellacking at the hands of the Leafs last December 12. "I like their system. I like what they've done with their team, and they're going to be a real tough opponent for us."
The Leafs haven't scored a single goal since a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers October 26, suffering back-to-back 2-0 losses to the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins. Having scored just one goal in three of their four losses so far this season, the Capitals can empathize.
"Every team in this league is good," defenseman John Carlson said. "Last year they really worked hard, and they just happen to be going through a dry spell right now, just like we had earlier this season."
Carlson and his defensemates will have to account for dynamic Leafs forward Phil Kessel, who leads Toronto in goals and points (seven and nine, respectively).
"He moves pretty well with the puck," Carlson said, when asked what makes Kessel such a difficult player to defend. "He moves about the same speed with the puck as most guys do without the puck. It's tough to defend a guy who has the ability to use that speed and make moves with the puck all at the same time."
Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth was named NHL rookie of the month today. Neuvirth posted a 7-3 record with a 2.15 goals-aginst average in the month of October, as well as a .926 save percentage. The Czech netminder allowed just 20 goals on 272 shots.
Boudreau said that center Marcus Johansson (hip flexor) was "getting better," but hadn't made a full recovery. For the second straight day, Johansson was wearing a yellow non-contact jersey during practice and did not participate in any of the team's power-play or penalty-killing drills. He won't play against Toronto. "We don't want to bring him back, have him reinjure his hip, and be out for three more weeks," Boudreau said.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is expected back on the Kettler ice Wednesday, and Boudreau said the Russian netminder was "a week to 10 days away" from being ready to play. "He knows his body a lot better than we do," Boudreau said. "He's hard to read sometimes, but if I were him, I'd be pretty frustrated."
Defenseman Tom Poti, who hasn't played since October 21 at Boston, was described by Boudreau as "pretty sore." Both Poti and defenseman Tyler Sloan made it through the full practice today, but it is not certain that either will be able to play tomorrow night. We'll know more after tomorrow's morning skate.