Saturday, March 3, 2018

Saturday storylines: Taking it back outside

Our first post-deadline Saturday brings an unusually light schedule, with just eight games and some weird start times. That’s because the NHL is shifting the spotlight to the third and final outdoor game of the season, which is where we’ll start.

HNIC Game of the Night: Maple Leafs at Capitals

It’s OK to admit that you kind of forgot this outdoor game was happening until a few days ago. With all the focus on the Olympics and the trade deadline, it was easy enough to forget that two of the Eastern Conference’s better teams would be facing off under the stars. Call it outdoor fatigue — man there have been a lot of these things — but the days of these games feeling like a major event seem to be fading.

That said, this one should be better than most. The location, the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., is pretty cool. The matchup is great, featuring two good teams that are fun to watch and met in last year’s playoffs. And the uniforms are… well, look, we didn’t say it was perfect. But the location and the matchup are good.

The Capitals come into this one needing every point they can get. They’ve led the Metro for most of the season, but recent surges by both the Penguins and Flyers have put that status in doubt, with Philadelphia briefly taking over top spot earlier this week. Even the Devils are still in the mix, especially after a nicely productive deadline. The Capitals would love to secure first place and home ice through the first two rounds, if only to avoid drawing the Penguins in round one. Those two teams always seem to find each other in the post-season, and it rarely goes well for Washington. Winning the division would likely mean they’d get to avoid that fate for at least a round, which should be enough motivation to finish strong.

The Maple Leafs don’t have quite the same sense of urgency, at least in terms of the standings. They still have a shot at catching the Lightning or Bruins, but it’s a long one. Chances are, they’re going to finish third in the Atlantic and start the playoffs on the road with a tough matchup. That will no doubt reignite the debate over the playoff format, since Toronto would be leading the Metro by six points, but that’s life in the NHL.

The bigger priority for Toronto is to finish strong; they’ve dropped two straight after an extended hot streak, although they picked up points in both losses. They’ll be without Auston Matthews again tonight, so we can expect to see plenty of deadline pickup Tomas Plekanec. There were no similar additions on the Washington side of the ledger, as Brian MacLellan made the interesting choice to let the deadline pass with only minor tinkering. Still, the Caps are deep and skilled, and match up well with a Toronto squad missing its best player.

On paper, it should be a great matchup. That may or may not translate on the ice; these outdoor games tend to feel tentative and choppy at times. The Leafs’ track record in that regard is actually pretty good, with a pair of entertaining wins over the Red Wings on their outdoor resumé. The Capitals have been a little more hit-and-miss, with a decent 2015 appearance overshadowed by this whole mess from 2011. We’ll see what the two teams can cook up for us tonight.

Tonight’s matchup is scheduled for an 8:00 ET start instead of the usual 7:00. And if you’re shaking off that outdoor fatigue, there’s good news: With no more Stadium Series games this year and no Heritage Classic on the schedule for next, this looks like the last outdoor action until the league heads to Notre Dame for the 2019 Winter Classic.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet


  1. Oddly Specific Prediction #2!! Nailed it!

  2. The last match will be decisive for the teams. The members must make many efforts to confirm the primacy in the final.