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Ovechkin likes Matthews’ chances of scoring 70 goals

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews and Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin - Getty Images

The Washington Capitals skated at MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs have media availability scheduled for 5:15 pm at Capital One Arena. 


Auston Matthews is cooling off of late with just three goals in 11 games. Alex Ovechkin still likes his chances of hitting 70 goals. 

"One game he can score four goals and he's over there close," the Washington Capitals winger said. "I'm cheering for him. He's a fun player to watch and fans are going to love it when it's going to be 70." 

Ovechkin's career high is 65 goals set in the 2007-08 season. Matthews finished with 60 goals during the 2021-22 season en route to the Hart Trophy. 

No one has scored 70 in a season since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny potted 76 in 1992-93. Matthews is currently on pace for 68 goals. 

"I hope he gets it," said Ovechkin. "He's a special player. It's fun to watch ... Happy for him."

Matthews has 15 multi-goal games this season. Twice he's recorded a hat trick in consecutive games. So, you can understand why Ovechkin is confident a hot streak is coming. 

"He's going to make another history moment, you know, first [active] guy who is going to score 70," said Ovechkin. "Yeah, it's pretty cool."

Matthews leads the NHL with 55 goals, which is seven clear of anyone else this season. 

"For him, it's easy," Ovechkin said with a smile. "For us, it's kind of hard, but we try and find a way to find empty nets, rebounds, whatever."

None of Matthews' goals have been scored into an empty net. Matthews is tied for second in posts hit and crossbars hit. 

"He's again feeling like that 60-goal year," said first year Capitals coach Spencer Carbery, who spent two seasons as an assistant with the Leafs before getting the job in Washington. "He's stepping into areas off the rush and he's pulling and snapping and it's just coming off hot. Yeah, 70 is not out of reach."

So, how do the Capitals stop him on Wednesday? 

"I don't think I'm going to play against him, to be honest with you," Ovechkin said with a smile and a shrug. 

Ovechkin has a point. It's probably a better question for Carbery. 

"Similar to a [Connor] Bedard off the rush, you really have to be careful with your gaps and making sure that he's not getting you backed in to the top of the circles and closer because that's where, even if you're in front of him, look out, because he can pull it through your triangle, shoot through your feet," the coach warned. 

But that's far from the only challenge against Matthews, who is third in takeaways this seasons. 

"The thing that I think he does as good as anybody in the world is his ability to win pucks, 50-50 pucks, pull them off the yellow, take contact, spin off," Carbery said. "It's as good as I've ever seen."

Matthews stands 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds and every season he seems to get better at using that size. 

"He'll go in tonight to a one-on-one confrontation, 50-50 puck, and for some reason, because he's so strong, because he's so smart and he's quick, he comes out with those pucks 80 per cent [of the time]," Carbery marvelled. "Our D need to do a really good job of, when you close on him, you've got to be heavy on your stick, you've got to use your body control so he's not spinning off you."


ContentId(1.2092847): Ovechkin hopes Matthews beats his career high: 'Fans are going to love it'


What does Ovechkin remember about his 65-goal run, which came in his third NHL season? 

"Geez, it was a long time ago," said Ovechkin. "Back then we try to find a spot for playoffs and everybody kind of, like, last month and a half, everybody played like playoffs hockey ... Everybody do their best and, you know, we get in and it was good."

Ovechkin scored 11 goals in the final 12 games and the Capitals won 11 of 12 games to close that regular season. Washington didn't secure a playoff spot until the final day.

It looks like Matthews will not have a playoff race to fuel him down the stretch. Toronto sits third in the Atlantic Division with a five-point cushion on the fourth-place Tampa Bay Lightning. The Leafs trail the second place Florida Panthers by nine points. 

Toronto certainly lacked playoff intensity in Tuesday's loss to a desperate Philadelphia Flyers team.

"I didn't like anybody tonight," coach Sheldon Keefe fumed afterwards. "Forward, defence, goaltending, didn't like anybody." 

Another issue for Matthews and the Leafs at the moment is the absence of winger Mitch Marner, who will miss a fifth straight game on Wednesday due to a high-ankle sprain. 

Pontus Holmberg started the last two games in the right wing spot beside Matthews and Tyler Bertuzzi, but was bumped off the top line both times. Max Domi ended up playing the most shifts there on Tuesday.

"It felt good," said Bertuzzi. "I played with Doms quite a bit late this season and we've meshed well together. Obviously, he was my centre, but it's good to have him on the wing, and as the game got on we started getting more and more chances and we felt good."

It will also help Matthews if the Leafs power play gets cooking again. Toronto is 2-for-27 in the past 10 games, but did convert on a chance against the Flyers. The Leafs also scored a 6-on-5 goal. 

"You try to not get caught up in the results, but that's obviously what we're here to do and what we're working for, and at the end of the day, what counts," said centre John Tavares. "We know we may haven't been as sharp as we'd like, but a lot of the habits and foundation is there."

Matthews leads the Leafs with 15 power-play goals. 

"I worked with him a lot on the power play," said Carbery. "His one-timer now, over from the dot where Leon Draisaitl hits it a lot, looks as good as I’ve ever seen it."


ContentId(1.2092846): Carbery: Matthews' one-timer from Draisaitl spot 'as good as I've ever seen it'


The same thing that fuelled Ovechkin at the end of the 2007-08 season seems to be helping him now. 

"He smells these are the most important games of the year," Carbery said. "His competitiveness and what he's doing inside of his game, his level of detail away from the puck, his leadership from a bench, locker room, is almost more engaged. He's been through this a long time, 19 years now, and this time of the year is his time to shine and where he really wants to get his game at a high level, but also the entire group's as our captain."

Ovechkin has scored 13 goals in the past 21 games dating back to Jan. 27. 

"Since the [All-Star] break he's been one of our best players every night," said winger Tom Wilson. "He's just firing the puck like his old self. He's good at the net front and he's flying around out there. It's huge for us. Obviously he's our X factor. He's our guy. He's our MVP every season, so when he's going it's going to help the group."

The Capitals are on a 10-4-1 run, which has allowed them to surge to within one point of a playoff spot. 

"Every game is like the biggest game for us," Ovechkin said. "You can see what happens now in the standings. Sometimes some team win, sometimes team lose, and we just have to push ourselves. It doesn't matter how different teams are going to play, we just have to get points in all games."


ContentId(1.2092843): 'Firing the puck like his old self': As playoff race heats up so does Ovechkin


Joel Edmundson sees some similarities between Matthews and Ovechkin. He also sees some differences. 

"Maybe a little less grey hair," the 30-year-old defenceman said. "They both work very hard, and they love the game for sure."

Edmundson was shipped to the Leafs by the Capitals on the eve of the trade deadline. Now, he's back in the American capital. 

"Exciting," he said. "Definitely a little weird. I'll have my wife and mom there. They're still packing up the house and then they'll make their way up to Toronto."

"It will be fun to go out there and battle with him," said Wilson with a smile. "He's tough in the corners, in front of the net, so I'm expecting a couple battles with him tonight for sure."

Edmundson's physical play is one of his calling cards. The 6-foot-5, 221-pound rearguard speaks softly, but carries a big stick. 

"Right out of training camp you feel that stick on your back and you turn around and it's kind of only one guy it can be," Wilson said. "I got used to that pretty quick in training camp and pre-season. He's a heavy guy, heavy d-man in the corners. A little old school to him. We had a good time while he was here. You wish the best for him, and it will be fun to see him out there."

Edmundson's hard-nosed game is more of a rarity these days. The cross-check to the back is almost a lost art now. 

"Earlier in my career, 10, 15 years ago, that was the signature," Wilson said. "Everybody did it. You go to the net [and] they'd make you pay for it. Big, heavy d-men. And he's still got that in his game. You see a lot more D fronting pucks, blocking shots, getting ready to skate up ice, whereas he's the guy that he can clear out the net, clear the corners, play pretty heavy. He's a guy you like having own your side for sure." 

Edmundson lifted the Stanley Cup in 2019 with the St. Louis Blues and reached the final in 2021 with the Montreal Canadiens. He only played 44 games with Washington, but made a big impression. 

"He's a great addition for their team – not only from what he does on the ice, but also from a leadership standpoint," said Carbery. "Teammates really, really like him. He is a calming presence. He's not boisterous or loud, or going to be the most vocal guy in the room, but he has a real calming presence to him, and I think guys really appreciate that and respect that about him. He's won a Stanley Cup, and you can see why a guy like that has had so much success or has been on so many good teams in his career. "


ContentId(1.2092848): Caps' Wilson ready to battle, take cross-checks from 'old school' Edmundson


Edmundson is currently pairing up with Timothy Liljegren

"He's steady," said Liljegren. "He makes it easy. He makes smart plays with the puck. He's open for me to make plays to him and obviously takes a lot of responsibility defensively."

"I think that will be a really solid D pair," said current Capital defenceman Rasmus Sandin, who was traded by the Leafs last season. "Timothy's been playing some really good hockey this year too and has been given a bigger role now, so really happy for him. With him and Joel, I think they will play some really solid hockey. Timothy is a fantastic skater, and has some really good puck skills as well. I think they're going to match up really well together."

In past seasons, the Leafs added defencemen at the deadline, which pushed Liljegren down the depth chart. This year, Toronto is keeping the 24-year-old in the lineup. He's even getting a chance to quarterback the top power play unit at the moment. 

"The last couple years he's been limited," said Sandin. "I think sky's the limit a little bit for him. He has a lot of potential. He's a great skater. He defends well and he has great puck skills, and he has a rocket of a shot too. Give him a little bit more time with this role and he's going to grow into it even more."


William Nylander established a new career high by recording his 88th point on Tuesday night. 

"You just want to get better and better," the winger said. "I mean, don't want to slow down ... Just keep pushing. I mean, that's what I'm thinking of doing." 

Nylander has only been held off the scoresheet in 15 games all season. 

"I think he's playing the same style," said Sandin. "He's just very consistent, I feel like. He's bringing it every single night. He's working really hard, and pucks are going in for him. It's fun to see."  

Nylander was rewarded with his first appearance in the All-Star Game. He also signed an eight-year extension worth $92 million with the Leafs. 

"It's just really impressive how he's continued to elevate and push himself into the top tier of players in our game," said Tavares. "He's been incredible for us all year. I know he wants to continue to push for more."  

Nylander has scored in three straight games. 

"We're getting ready for playoffs here," he said, "so dialling up our game."


ContentId(1.2092845): Nylander hits career high in points: 'Don’t want to slow down'


Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie will be a healthy scratch on Wednesday in Washington. 

"It's an opportunity for us to give him a little bit of time off, lighten the workload a bit here," coach Sheldon Keefe explained. "Brods knows he hasn't been at his best this season here, for most of the season, yet he's taken on a lot for us. We've been through a lot with our defence, in particular, throughout the season and he's been consistently there each night taking on most of the hardest match-ups every single night and it's been a lot."

Brodie is averaging 21 minutes and 51 seconds of ice time per game this season, which is second on the team behind only Morgan Rielly. This is the first time Brodie will be scratched for performance-related reasons. 

Conor Timmins draws in and will play for the first time since Jan. 24. Fellow right-shot defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin remains sidelined with an illness.  

Fourth-line winger Ryan Reaves will miss the game after sustaining an injury in a fight with Nicolas Deslauriers on Tuesday in Philadelphia. 

"He took a finger in the eye in that fight so it's just a little irritated," Keefe said. 

Noah Gregor will come into the lineup. 

Joseph Woll gets the start. It will be his first game action since March 7. 


ContentId(1.2092982): Brodie scratched for first time in Leafs career: 'He hasn't been at his best this season'

Projected Capitals lineup for Wednesday's game: 

Ovechkin - McMichael - Oshie
Miroshnichenko - Strome - Wilson 
Pacioretty - Lapierre - Milano 
Malenstyn - Dowd - Protas  

Fehervary - Carlson
Sandin - Jensen
Alexeyev - van Riemsdyk

Lindgren starts