Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals visit the Toronto Maples Leafs tonight for a 7:00 pm EST showdown.
Here are four factors that could stand in the Leafs path to victory:
1) Many people will argue that Ovechkin is no longer a dominant force in the NHL and his recent stats support this argument. After recording 109 points (50 goals, 59 assists) in 2009-2019 , he’s seen his totals drop by 20 points or more over each of the past two seasons, settling at a career-low 65 points (38 goals, 27 assists) last season. Ovechkin’s start to the present season is no better. In six games, he’s only managed to score two points (1 goal, 1 assist), which is well below the expectations for an NHL “superstar”. For the purpose of comparison, the Leafs’ second line centerman Mikhail Grabovski has collected five points (3 goals, 2 assists) over the same number of games. Things have gotten so bad for Ovechkin that no one will likely notice or care if he takes off to play for Team Russia at Sochi in 2014. Having said all this, there’s still some sense that Ovechkin could suddenly break out of the funk and rediscover his old scoring touch at any moment. Is that moment tonight?
Ovechkin came alive for one goal on the power play, but I wouldn’t say he stood out from his teammates. We saw a better and more creative game from Washington’s second line center Mike Ribeiro.
2) If Ovechkin’s play has further deteriorated over the short course of the present season, then it can be argued that James Reimer’s play has only improved over the same period. Reimer has looked good in his three starts so far this season and he’s going to make his season debut at home tonight. The Air Canada Centre hasn’t been the easiest place for the Leafs to play in recent times so a win at home is absolutely critical. Can Reimer get the job done?
This wasn’t Reimer’s best game of the season, stopping 20 shots while letting two slip by him. It didn’t matter, however, as he did enough to get the win and the guys in front of him drove the pace of the game from the blow of the first whistle until the final one.
3) Matt Frattin treated Leafs Nation with a brilliant goal in overtime to beat the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. He collected another goal earlier in the game and has a total of five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in three games since being called-up from the Marlies to cover for the injured Joffrey Lupul. I should add that his ice time has increased every game over the same time span. Does Frattin have more fuel in the tank to continue his impressive run at the NHL level?
Another beautiful game winner for Frattin. Expect him to continue playing a key role on the team moving forward. Having said that, it’s interesting to note that his playtime actually decreased by about 4 and a half minutes against Tuesday’s game.
4) Frattin’s teammate from the Marlies Ryan Hamilton might want to make a strong impression at the NHL level as well. He’ll be making his season debut for the Leafs tonight in place of the injured Colton Orr and Mike Brown. As captain of the Marlies, Hamilton has collected 27 points (18 goals, 9 assists) in 38 games this season. However, he’s only played in two career games at the NHL level, collecting one assist in the process. Can Hamilton make a strong case to stay with the big team?
Hamilton’s playing time was largely limited to the fourth line. Was it enough to impress the coaching staff? I’m not sure. Will we stay up for a bit? At the very least, he’ll stay up until Brown is ready to return. Orr, by the way, was healthy enough to play last night. It’s always nice to see him in the lineup.
Want to share your own thoughts on the Leafs or any other team in the NHL? Check out our new forums and be among the first to set the tone! You might even find one or two of the F4S writers on there so keep your head up!
Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports, politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson