While they’re not even at the halfway point of the season, the Washington Capitals are starting to pull away from the pack in the Southeast Division.
The Capitals look for their eighth win in nine games Saturday night when they open a four-game trip against a Toronto Maple Leafs team seeking to win three in a row at home for the first time in almost two years.
Having won the last two Southeast titles, the Capitals (20-6-6) were expected to be the class of the division again this season and they have not disappointed. Washington has opened a 13-point lead over second-place Atlanta while no other first-place club has more than a three-point advantage on its closest pursuer.
The Capitals increased their lead with a 4-3 overtime victory over Carolina on Friday, rebounding from a shutout loss in their previous game. Alexander Semin(notes) scored twice and Mike Green(notes) connected with 3:44 left in the extra session as Washington avoided a home defeat against the league’s worst team.
“I got lucky there and was just excited it went in,” Green said. “I didn’t have a great game, so it’s a great feeling.”
Alex Ovechkin(notes) had two assists after he was held without a point for only the fourth time in 24 games this season in Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Buffalo. The reigning two-time MVP has two goals and two assists in two games this season against the Maple Leafs, helping the Capitals to a 1-0-1 record. Ovechkin has 16 goals and eight assists in 17 career games against Toronto (10-14-7).
Semin continued his red-hot scoring with his fifth multigoal game this season. He has four goals and six assists in his last five games overall, and had two goals with an assist in Washington’s 6-4 victory over Toronto on Oct. 3.
The Maple Leafs beat the Capitals 2-1 in a shootout at home on Nov. 21 to end a five-game losing streak. That began Toronto’s current 7-3-2 run that has put it back into the mix for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Coach Ron Wilson credits several factors with the team’s turnaround.
“We’ve gotten solid goaltending, defensemen have done a better job, 5-on-5 up the ice creating turnovers and we’re a little bit more confident in terms of finishing up opportunities. We still have to work on our special teams but you’re always working on something.”
One night after a 3-2 home victory over the New York Islanders, the Leafs were unable to win three straight for the first time this season as they fell 5-2 at Boston on Thursday.
“We’ve only got one win in our division, which is awful,” defenseman Ian White(notes) said. “We got spanked by these guys not even a week ago. We were expecting to come in here and have a different showing.”
A victory Saturday would give Toronto three straight wins at the Air Canada Centre for the first time since Jan. 15-23, 2008.