Caps (26-14-8, 60 points) at Maple Leafs (19-22-5, 43 points)

What » Game #49

Where » Air Canada Center

When » 7 p.m.


Radio » WFED-1500 AM

Always a special night for NHL players when they make a Hockey Night in Canada appearance in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. The Caps get that chance tonight, where they hope to conclude a three-game road trip without a regulation loss. They dropped a 3-2 decision to Philadelphia on Tuesday and rebounded with a strong performance against the Islanders as they held on for a 2-1 win on Thursday.

Washington is actually 8-2-4 since snapping an eight-game losing streak last month. That’s 20 standings points earned out of a possible 28 - though Tampa Bay is now three points ahead in the Southeast Division. It looks like rookie Braden Holtby gets a second consecutive start, as Caps senior staff writer Mike Vogel reports from the morning skate at ACC that Holtby was first off the ice. Bruce Boudreau said in a conference call on Friday that he thought Thursday’s win was huge for Holtby, who struggled in his final two NHL appearances in November before being returned to AHL Hershey. He’s played at an All-Star level there since. But showing that again in an NHL game was important.

Injuries to Michal Neuvirth – now back in Washington getting treatment – and Semyon Varlamov have given Holtby, 21, another chance. He gave up eight goals on just 28 shots in 5-0 losses to Atlanta and New Jersey on Nov. 19 and Nov. 22. Even during the eight-game losing streak in December the Caps didn’t endure back-to-back drubbing like that.

“As a young goaltender he’s very confident. And even if you look [Thursday] night the way [Holtby] plays the puck it helps us d-men out so much and then we’re able to get the puck up the boards quicker,” said Caps defenseman Mike Green. “And not only that he made some pretty big saves that when we had some breakdowns he was there for us and that’s really all we can ask from our goaltender. We know that he’s a great goaltender. I think it’s harder for goalies to step in at a younger age than any other position and he’s done a good job of that.”

Washington’s December fade, it could be argued, started with a loss to the Maple Leafs. Up 4-1 in the third period of a game at Verizon Center on Dec. 6, the Caps were cruising to an easy win. But they were shell-shocked after allowing three goals, including two in 59 seconds with time running out, and losing in a shootout, 5-4. After that one they couldn’t buy a win for almost two weeks. They seek a little revenge tonight in a game they all look forward to playing – Saturday night in Canada.

“Obviously, watching it growing up and now playing in it,” Green said. “It’s a pretty special night. We unfortunately don’t get to play here all that much, but when we do it’s nice to play here on a Saturday night for sure.”

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