NHL

Maple Leafs-Capitals Preview

The Washington Capitals' three-game slide can be traced to difficulties in the opening period, and they're hoping Tim Gleason can help solve it.

With Gleason potentially in line for his team debut Sunday night, the Capitals look to continue their home success against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are trying to snap a franchise-record losing streak.

With 19 games left in the regular season, Washington (33-20-10) would seem on its way to the playoffs with nine points more than the cutoff in the Eastern Conference.

The Capitals, though, have dropped three games in a row after winning eight of 10. Their recent struggles have been particularly evident in the first period, as they've been outscored 4-1 in the last three games while giving up the first goal in each.

Washington gave up another tally in the opening period Friday, and went on to lose 3-0 at last-place Carolina.

"The slow starts have kind of been killing us," right wing Tom Wilson said. "The way things have been going the last four games, we have to change something. It's crunch time now, (19) games left, and it's not the time you want to be playing bad hockey."

Gleason may get a chance to help after being acquired in a trade with the Hurricanes on Saturday, in exchange for defenseman Jack Hillen and a fourth-round draft pick this summer. He's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

"Obviously, he's an older defenseman. He brings a wealth of experience. He's a bigger body," coach Barry Trotz said. "I think he's more on the penalty killing, defensive side, good around the blue paint. Just makes more of a stay at home than an offensive defenseman. Thought would be that he would play with (Mike Green). Just gives us a little more balance there."

Getting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom going again would also help. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 39 goals, but he has one in four games after collecting five during a streak of that length, which also included four assists.

Backstrom is among the league leaders with 64 points, but he has none in three games after getting seven in the previous four.

Ovechkin has 28 goals and 50 points in 35 career meetings with Toronto, netting the final goal of a 6-2 road win Jan. 7.

The Capitals are 8-1-1 in their last 10 meetings with the Maple Leafs (25-32-5) in the nation's capital, and that may only improve with Toronto on a team-record 15-game road slide. It's the longest in the league since Chicago dropped 19 in a row in 2003-04.

The Leafs have scored 15 goals during the road skid - only three coming in the first period - and suffered their fifth shutout of the stretch with Saturday's 4-0 loss at Montreal in the opener of a four-game trip. Toronto, though, outshot the Canadiens 30-23, including 22-11 after two periods.

"They only had 11 shots after two periods," coach Peter Horachek said. "We turned over that first goal, they had an empty-net goal, and that third goal was clearly goalie interference.

"But there was some good compete there. We had some good opportunities."

Phil Kessel would like to capitalize on one, as he's failed to score during the road losing streak. He has just three goals in 14 career visits to Washington.

James van Riemsdyk's 22 goals are just one back of Kessel for the team lead, but he has one in 13 games.

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