The Toronto Maple Leafs hope captain John Tavares’ 1,000th career game Sunday against the visiting Washington Capitals is the catalyst for a rebound effort.
In their first game without injured star Auston Matthews on Friday, the Maple Leafs were drubbed 6-2 by the visiting Ottawa Senators.
“You can’t lose like that on home ice,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Matthews, named to the All-Star team earlier this week, will be out for at least three weeks with a sprained knee.
The Maple Leafs are 2-1-0 on their five-game homestand.
Meanwhile the focus turns to the Capitals, who defeated the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday.
Tavares, who has 21 goals and 28 assists, figures to take on an even more important role in Matthews’ absence.
“A lot of hard work and perseverance, and a lot of fun,” Tavares said Saturday about approaching his milestone game. “You love to play this game as a kid and dream about playing in the NHL.
“And to think that you get to do it for the 1,000th time is pretty remarkable. Don’t take that for granted.”
The Maple Leafs also are dealing with an ankle injury to goaltender Matt Murray, who was scratched from his scheduled start Friday after the warmup.
He stayed on the bench as the backup goaltender but would not have been able to play had starter Ilya Samsonov been injured. Keefe said that the team would have turned to an emergency backup goaltender in that event.
“It has been something he has been dealing with for a while and it had settled,” Keefe said on Saturday. “He had been going through his workouts and such fine, but it flared up on him a bit and he didn’t feel comfortable playing.”
As for a possible replacement for Murray, Keefe said: “We’re trying to get as much information with Matt’s situation as we can before they make the corresponding move.”
Samsonov, who will start Sunday against his former team, is 14-1-1 in home games.
The injury to Murray meant that Samsonov unexpectedly made his fifth straight start.
“It put Sammy in a terrible, terrible spot,” Keefe said. “And we didn’t take care of him when he was in there.
“You can look at the effort to a certain extent, you can look at execution, turnovers,” Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “There were lots of things that we didn’t do well, lots of areas.”
Nicklas Backstrom scored the decisive goal in the shootout Thursday for the Capitals, who had lost three of their previous four.
The Capitals led 1-0 after the first period on Alex Ovechkin’s 32nd goal, which came on a power play.
“The first period was probably one of the best first periods we’ve played in a little bit,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “When you play the game against Pittsburgh with us, you have to be ready to play the whole 60 minutes.
“And you know that they’re going to push at some point, too. But just trying to stay focused through the whole thing, you’ve got to play fast, you’ve got to compete hard against them in order to be successful, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
Capitals forwards Tom Wilson and Nic Dowd are both out until after the All-Star break with lower-body injuries.
Toronto defenseman T.J. Brodie (rib) could return Sunday. He has been out since Jan. 7.