|The Leafs will pair Carl Gunnarsson with veteran Francois Beauchemin when they face the Capitals tonight. (QMI Agency/Michael Peake)
WASHINGTON -- It will be a big night for rookie Maple Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson with arguably the toughest assignment of his young career.
Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said the lanky Swede, who is playing for only the second game since missing 22 games with an elbow injury, will be matched up against Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, whenever possible in Friday night's contest.
Gunnarsson will be paired with veteran Francois Beauchemin in just the 10th game of his career. He had a strong return in Thursday’s 4-0 home win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The 23-year-old did a solid job clearing the front of the net, giving Vesa Toskala a good luck at shots on the way to his first shutout of the season.
After looking a little more than 20 minutes against the Flyers, Gunnarsson will have his hands full in front of the usually noisy Verizon Center crowd as the Caps begin a four-game homestand.
Ovechkin didn’t seem worried about offence - and with all the weapons his team has, why would he?
“First of all, we’ve got to play better defensively,” Ovechkin said following Friday’s morning skate at the team’s suburban practice facility.
With two losses in three meetings against the Leafs already, the Caps aren’t about to take the Leafs lightly. After watching Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Flyers, Boudreau stressed the point at the pre-game skate.
“They played awfully good last night,” Boudreau said. “They took a team that was the hottest team in the league and outplayed them.”
And sometimes, the teams that sneak up on you can be the most dangerous.
“They’ve got a lot of quick forwards, small guys, but they are very quick,” Caps centre Brooks Laich said. “I think they understand they are not the most talented team so they get their goals by going to the net. They are very aggressive in the offensive zone. It doesn’t surprise me they lead the league in shots.”
Wilson, meanwhile, stuck with his trend of skipping gameday skates, especially after the team had played the previous night. It is expected that Vesa Toskala will return in net after kicking aside 38 shots in Thursday’s big win.
As for injured defenceman Mike Komisarek, he’s getting closer. Wilson hinted that the big blueliner could return to the lineup later in the team's five-game road trip, possibly as soon as Thursday. Komisarek has missed the past six games with an upper-body injury.
Back to the Capitals. After being forced to give starter Michal Neuvirth the hook in the past two games, Boudreau will go with Jose Theodore tonight.
Forward Alexander Semin is questionable with an undisclosed injury.