By Brett Huston
Washington (45-23-6) at Toronto (30-30-13), 7 p.m. EDT
TORONTO (AP) -- The Washington Capitals have been a mediocre
offensive club in March, and a near shutout loss against the
Toronto Maple Leafs exemplified that.
Then again, Alex Ovechkin didn't play in that game.
The Capitals will have Ovechkin in the lineup Tuesday night in
Toronto, though, where they'll hope the NHL's leading goal
scorer can take advantage of the defensively-challenged Maple
Washington (45-23-6) was the Eastern Conference's second-highest
scoring team at the beginning of March, putting up 3.30 goals
per game through the first three-quarters of the season. In 11
games this month, however, the Capitals have averaged 2.36 goals
to rank second-to-last in the East.
Ovechkin, who has a league-high 50 goals, certainly hasn't been
void of blame. He scored 0.74 goals per game from October
through February, but has averaged just 0.50 goals this month.
Ovechkin managed only an assist on Saturday at Carolina, where
he mustered seven shots on Cam Ward but couldn't get one past
him in a 4-1 loss.
"We were really good in the first and then we started to turn
the puck over in the second and third," Caps coach Bruce
Boudreau said. "We made a couple of mistakes."
Washington couldn't get anything going offensively the last time
it faced the Maple Leafs (30-30-13), getting blanked until
Alexander Semin with 39 seconds left in a 2-1 loss on March 5 at
the Verizon Center. The Capitals, though, were without Ovechkin,
who was nursing a bruised heel.
That was only the sixth time this season Toronto limited its
opponent to one goal - it's yet to record a shutout - but
perhaps the Capitals will fare better with Ovechkin healthy.
He's scored six goals in his last six games against the Maple
Leafs, who allow an NHL-high 3.42 per game.
Toronto has been shoring up its defense somewhat in March,
however, yielding three goals per game. The Leafs were better
than that their last time out, holding down Montreal while
getting two goals and two assists from Alexei Ponikarovsky in a
5-2 road victory on Saturday.
Ponikarovsky's line combined for 11 points. Mikhail Grabovski
had a goal and three assists - including one on Jason Blake's
25th goal in the third - and Nikolai Kulemin had a goal and two
"The whole line was awesome tonight - skating, shooting,
passing, doing everything that they can do - and it was great to
see," said Blake, who scored his third goal in four games.
The Leafs have defended Washington well this season, allowing
seven goals in three games - two to Ovechkin - but it's been
their lack of offense that's resulted in them dropping two of
those. Toronto scored just once apiece in a pair of losses to
the Caps in December, including 2-1 on Dec. 6 at Air Canada
Blake, the Leafs' leading scorer, hasn't recorded a point in his
last six games against Washington.