Leafs hope for win against struggling Caps

Leaf Nikolai Kulemin (R) pulls on the chin strap of Phil Kessel. (Craig Robertson/QMI AGENCY)

Leaf Nikolai Kulemin (R) pulls on the chin strap of Phil Kessel. (Craig Robertson/QMI AGENCY)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:04 PM ET

TORONTO - WASHINGTON, D.C. - From the Maple Leafs, a scarcity of scoring has been normal behavior 26 games into the NHL season. But the Washington Capitals?

Back-to-back losses are hardly a crisis for the Caps, who still have the NHL’s best record of 18-8-2. But in each of those games, Alex Ovechkin and company have managed just one goal in each.

After the most recent of those, Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, coach Bruce Boudreau scrapped a scheduled day off and called a Sunday practice in advance of Monday night’s game here against Toronto.

The emphasis was to get more aggressive and physical in the opposition’s zone to help snap out of it. Washington fired a total of 82 shots at the Predators that game but only 46 made it through with 20 blocked and 16 going wide.

So how much more dangerous will they be when they play host to the Leafs for the second time this season?

“It just shows you, it’s difficult to score and all teams go through situations where they are going to dry up,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said of the Caps' recent struggles.

“It just scares you even more that they are focused on doing the same things that we’re talking about - going to the tough areas, getting to the front of the net, shooting the puck more. We’re going to have to be on our toes.”

Ovechkin scored the lone goal for the Caps on Saturday, snapping the nine-game goal drought which had matched the longest in his career. But if there is ever a team to wake him up, it’s the Leafs. In four games last season, Ovie had 12 points against Toronto, more than any other team in the league.

“You know Ovechkin is going to get 10 or 15 whacks at the puck and it’s best to be right in his face to prevent him from shooting,” Wilson said. “If you are close to him, yo have a good chance of blocking him.”

Easier said than done of course, but the Leafs defenceman know they will have to pay the price.

“(Ovechkin) gets to the blueline and tries to shoot every time,” Leafs defenceman Francois Beauchemin said. “You try to stay as close as you can to him, not give him time and space to make plays and take shots. Try to be physical on him. He does retaliate sometimes.

“The closer you are to him, the better it is for you.”

The Leafs recalled goaltender James Reimer from the Marlies to backup Jonas Gustavsson who will get the start tonight. J-S Giguere is also on the trip but after having a minor setback to a previous groin injury, the team doesn’t want to take any chances.

“Jiggy’s out working out, we don’t want to put him in a position where we think he could damage his groin,” Wilson said following the gameday skate. “More than likely James will be here likely for one night.

Wilson has no hesitation in putting in The Monster, who was yanked after giving up two goals in the first five shots he faced last Thursday against Tampa Bay.

“(Gustavsson) had a bit of an off night but he’s been playing so we have no hesitation about playing him,” Wilson said.

Meanwhile, Boudreau said he’s wary of a Leafs team when it gets away from the Air Canada Centre.

“Sometimes it’s better to get out of that rat race of Toronto with all the people all over them,” Boudreau said. “They come on the road and it’s easier for them to play.

“They play us very hard in this building.”

LOOSE LEAFS

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf went through an extended game day skate with the team, hinting that he’s getting much nearer to his return. He accompanied the team on this two-game trick but is unlikely to see any game action until next week ... Brett Lebda and John Mitchell will be the Leafs healthy scratches tonight.

Follow Rob Longley on Twitter: twitter.com/longleysunsport


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