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Matthews listed as game-time decision due to illness


The Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals skated at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.


Auston Matthews missed the morning skate due to an illness and is listed as a game-time decision.

"It is going to be based on how he feels throughout the day," said coach Sheldon Keefe. 

The Leafs prepared as if their top-line centre will be available. Instead of shuffling the lines, Toronto simply had Mitch Marner, who will miss a ninth straight game with a high-ankle sprain, take reps in Matthews' spot beside Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi

Keefe noted that this illness isn't like the flu that kept Matthews out of a game in December. 

"We are hopeful it is a little more manageable and he can be available tonight," Keefe said. "We will see how the extra rest benefits him."

Matthews lit up the Capitals to the tune of two goals and three assists last week in a big 7-3 win in Washington. 

"Look, he's as hard as anybody in the league to close on and to be able to physically get into one-on-one," said Capitals coach Spencer Carbery, who spent the previous two seasons as an assistant in Toronto. "It's not an easy task, but you do need to do a job of getting into him early. If you're three, four feet off of him in the offensive zone and he gets the puck, he's going to spin off of you. He's going to beat you to the middle. He's going to use this size, strength, skating ability to get to the interior. We have to close or do a better job of closing on him in the defensive zone."

Alex Ovechkin was asked what his team needs to do differently to flip the script against the Leafs. 

"Play smarter," the Capitals captain said. "Don't make mistakes, because if you're going to make mistakes it's going to cost you the game." 


ContentId(1.2096481): Caps searching for answer for Matthews


The Leafs are coming off a 6-3 home loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Keefe called the performance "immature" and called out his players, especially veteran leaders like Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander, for chasing offence and letting defensive details slip. 

"We're looking forward to the opportunity to bounce back," said Domi, who had four assists in Washington last week. "We've done a great job of that all year of not letting a not-so-great game slip into two, so looking forward to the opportunity to do that tonight. We're going to need everyone."

The Leafs actually led the Devils 3-2 in the second period before New Jersey seized back control of the game. 

"We had the lead, and we gave them the game," said winger Nick Robertson. "It's kind of over and over we keep saying this, but we need to really get it cleaned up leading into playoffs and get that structured game and hold leads and not give them anything."

What is Carbery expecting from the Leafs? 

"The absolute best they have to offer," he said. "Our guys will know what went on [against] New Jersey. I know Will, John and how they'll respond in moments like this and in games like this ... We're going to get their best tonight."

Nylander was not available to the media after Thursday's skate. 


ContentId(1.2096476): Leafs expecting to rebound following disappointing back-to-back losses


Ovechkin scored twice against the Leafs last week and is now up to 18 goals in the last 25 games. 

"He's the best ever to do it," said Domi. "You can plan for it all you want, whatever, all the Xs and Os and preparation that goes into it, but he's still going to get his looks, still get his goals."

Ovechkin, 38, looks nothing like the guy who started out slow with only eight goals through 43 games this season. 

"It just seems like the Ovi hunger for scoring is back and is in full effect," said linemate T.J. Oshie. "I've never seen anyone like it. There are obviously guys in this league that are very good and very good goal scorers. There's one across [in the other] locker room who's extremely elite, but my own eyes personally, I've never seen someone who wants to score more than O does."

"It's the best time of the year," Ovechkin said. "After All-Star break nobody talks like we going to be in this playoff spot, but all of us turn our brains out on a different level and it's fun. You know, we still fighting. We still have a pretty good chance to be out there, and you never know." 


ContentId(1.2096478): 'Once he gets going, he usually doesn't slow down': Caps riding Ovechkin's rejuvenation

The Capitals are feeding off Ovechkin's scoring surge. Dylan Strome even passed to Ovechkin despite being in all alone against Leafs goalie Joseph Woll in last week's game. 

"I had the goalie right in front me," said Strome with a smile. "But I saw Ovi had the open net. I know it was a little late, maybe, but I saw Woll came out pretty far at me. It looked like I had a breakaway, but [defenceman Jake] McCabe slid a little too far and I saw Ovi with an open net, so I was going to pass that 10 out of 10."

Ovechkin made no mistake. His other goal in the game came from his office on the power play. 

"Obviously trying to take away his time and space and flexing out and getting in the shot lane is the simple answer," said McCabe. "But, I mean, he's scored as many goals as he has for a reason. I think if people figured it out they'd probably stop it by now."

The Leafs survived two Devils power plays on Tuesday, but their penalty kill remains 27th overall. 

The Capitals power play is first in the NHL since Jan. 25 clicking at 33.3 per cent. Ovechkin has nine power-play goals in this stretch. 

"The one-timer becomes most available when you got breakdowns in other places, which forces you to overreact and then it becomes available on the back side," Keefe said. "So, try to limit those mistakes and those breakdowns and stay out of the box as best we can. Whether it's the one-timer or not, their whole group is going very well right now."


ContentId(1.2096480): Leafs PK will keep a close eye on Ovechkin's office


Morgan Rielly did not skate on Thursday morning and the defenceman will miss a second straight game with an upper-body injury. 

"We are hopeful he is going to bounce back here," said Keefe. "The good thing is that once he gets through a day or two here, it is not going to be a lingering situation. It is not an injury that is going to be ongoing. Once he is past it, he is past it. We just need to give him some time."


Defenceman Rasmus Sandin will play in Toronto for the first time since being traded to the Capitals before the deadline last season. 

"It was different," he said of walking back into Scotiabank Arena. "I didn't really know where to go, that was the main thing. Just coming in from the other side."

Sandin, a first-round pick in 2018, played 140 games for the Leafs over four seasons. 

"I had a great time," the 24-year-old Swede said. "I loved my time here in Toronto. There's nothing but great memories. Toronto will always be a special place for me and my family. It's where I started my NHL career and made a lot of good friends and had a great time here overall. The organization is a first-class organization, and fans are great and loved my time. But, at the same time, that's a little bit in the past now too. I mean, with the Caps now and loving my time there." 


ContentId(1.2096475): Sandin makes first visit to Toronto since trade to Washington


Lines at Thursday's Leafs skate: 

Bertuzzi - Domi - Marner 
McMann - Tavares - Nylander 
Knies - Holmberg - Robertson 
Dewar - Kampf - Reaves 

McCabe - Liljegren 
Brodie - Lyubushkin 
Benoit - Timmins 

Woll starts