Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pre-Cap: Capitals vs. Maple Leafs

Brian Burke: portrait of a hard-ass

Washington Capitals (40-20-5, first in SE, third in EC)
Toronto Maple Leafs (25-26-3, fourth in NE, 11th in EC)

A “lesser” team coming off a loss facing the Capitals at home, why does this sound familiar? It was the same situation for the Panthers and Hurricanes before they waxed the Capitals on Sunday and then Tuesday.

Amidst what could be best described as an embarrassing slide, the Capitals will want to return to their winning ways before the Bruins lock up the East’s first place slot. Sloppy, uninspired play got the Capitals into their slump, and it’s going to take some good ole’-fashioned Caps hockey to get them out of it.

Sitting nine points out of the eighth and final playoff slot, the Maple Leafs would need an improbable run to reach the playoffs. While the postseason is a long shot, the Leafs are run by Brian Burke, a no-nonsense GM who isn’t going to accept half-assed efforts in the last weeks of the season.

Special teams will likely be the story of the game as they have been in the Caps' past two outings. The Maple Leafs are the 13th best power play with a 19.8 percentage, but are second worst in the league on the penalty kill with a 74.9 percentage. Don’t let the numbers fool you, though; the Leafs have only surrendered two power play goals in their past five games.

Leading the Leafs offense is Jason Blake. He has 51 points on the season, 22 goals and is a plus three. The Leafs have a balanced offensive, eight players have more than 10 goals this season and eight players have more the 30 points.

The Leafs' weakness is their defense, which if plus/minus ratings tells us anything, hasn’t been as strong as coach Ron Wilson would like. Toronto has only eight players with a positive plus/minus rating, and only one of them is in double digits (defender Ian White).

If the Capitals want to right the course and stay in the fight for the top slot in the East, they simply can’t look past the Maple Leafs. Consider this: If the Leafs were in a weaker division, they could be a playoff team.


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