CAPITALS (20-6-6) at MAPLE LEAFS (10-14-7)
Washington 7-1-2; Toronto 6-3-1
Third of four meetings this season, with each team having won
once on home ice. Washington raced to a five-goal lead before holding on for a 6-4 win on Oct. 3, and Toronto returned the favor on Nov. 21 with a 2-1 shootout victory. Semyon Varlamov and Vesa Toskala have been the starting goaltenders in both matchups.
While the Capitals have opened up a 13-point lead in the Southeast Division, the Maple Leafs have been battling their way back to respectability and will aim for their third straight win at the Air Canada Centre, a feat they haven't accomplished since January 2008.
"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," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "We still have to work on our special teams but you're always working on something."
A key player returned to the lineup Friday, as forward Mike Knuble was activated from injured reserve and made his first appearance since suffering a broken finger Nov. 13 against Minnesota. Jose Theodore started again with Varlamov battling a groin injury, and Washington pulled out a 4-3 win over Carolina when Mike Green scored 1:16 into overtime.
"We're playing at home in front of our fans and we were two goals down. There was nothing else to do but start playing great and start shooting," said Alexander Semin, who wiped out an early deficit with a pair of second-period goals. "Otherwise we wouldn't have won that game."
As long as the team on the other side of the ice doesn't wear gold and black and wear a ''B'' on its chest, Toronto has been unbeatable in December. The Leafs are 4-2-0 since the page on the calendar turned, but they've been humbled twice by the Bruins in Boston, including a 5-2 loss in their most recent game Thursday. It didn't sit well with defenseman Ian White, for one.
''We've only got one win in our division, which is awful,'' White said. ''We got spanked by these guys not even a week ago. We were expecting to come in here and have a different showing. It's unfortunate. It could be a number of factors, I'm not exactly sure what the problem is but we have to find ways to win.''
Semin has four multi-point efforts in five games for Washington since returning from injury, putting up four goals and 10 points in that time. Tomas Fleischmann has four goals and six points during the same span.
and Niklas Hagman carry five-game points streaks into Saturday for Toronto. Grabovski has three goals and three assists over that span while Hagman has one goal and five assists.
In addition to Varlamov, the Capitals remain without forwards Boyd Gordon (back) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw) and defenseman Brian Pothier (ribs).
Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson
practiced Friday as he aims to return soon following a procedure to correct an elevated heart rate. Forward John Mitchell
(knee) and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson
(hyperextended elbow) are out indefinitely and defenseman Mike Van Ryn
is out for the season following knee surgery.
Defenseman Tomas Kaberle
, who leads Toronto with 30 points, is third in the League with 28 assists.
Washington joined New Jersey and Pittsburgh as Eastern Conference teams with 20 victories. The Capitals enter Saturday with three more points than the Devils and Penguins by virtue of the six extra points they have picked up via overtime or shootout losses. The Devils and Penguins have just one overtime or shootout loss apiece.