|Leafs' offense clicking, Caps' defense struggling|
WASHINGTON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs bring their high-powered offense into Washington on Tuesday night to face a Capitals team struggling with its defense.
The Leafs are off to a 4-1-0 start, including a 4-3 overtime win in Montreal on Saturday that snapped a 14-game winless streak against the Canadiens.
Auston Matthews scored twice, including the game-winner. The NHL's reigning second star of the week, Matthews has five goals and three assists so far.
"If he was playing 20 years ago, we'd be saying he's Mario Lemieux-like," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He's 6-foot-(3). He skates great. He's got unbelievable hands. And a hockey I.Q.
"He's strong on the puck, and you throw in (Mitchell) Marner and all the young guys they have. They're just really deep."
Toronto left winger James van Riemsdyk has goals in three consecutive games, and five Leafs are averaging at least a point per game. However, the Leafs are surrendering 3.8 goals per game.
"We're not playing near as good as the end of last year, not even close," coach Mike Babcock told the Toronto Star. "But in saying that, we're probably playing better than we were at this time last year. We have more talent, but we can still play better than we've been playing."
Toronto's 2016-17 season ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Capitals. However, the Maple Leafs produced a strong showing against the Presidents' Trophy winners, taking a 2-1 series lead before dropping three straight games by one goal, the last two in overtime.
"I think with us, having the success we did against such a strong team, it was something that over the summer we were able to build off of and say, 'If each and every guy was two plays better per game, what would the ice look like? How much could we tilt it in our favor the next time around?'" Toronto's Connor Carrick told the team's website.
Washington (3-2-1) has lost three of four, and the ice was tilted against the Capitals on Saturday as they dropped an 8-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers, allowing 37 shots on Philipp Grubauer.
The game came one night after Washington lost top-two defenseman Matt Niskanen to a hand injury until at least November. This on a defensive unit that saw the departures of Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason.
With a younger, less experienced defensive corps, the Capitals are allowing nearly seven more shots per game than last season.
"We're not as structured defensively," Trotz said. "We haven't put as big an emphasis this year as we did last year. We've put a little more emphasis on trying to replace some of the goals that we lost. But right now, we have to get a little more balance."
Washington's Braden Holtby, who likely will be back in net Tuesday, is 6-2-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average versus Toronto in the regular season. Toronto's Frederik Andersen is 2-0-1 with a 2.67 GAA against the Capitals.
Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with nine goals and has thrived against Toronto, totaling 33 goals and 27 assists in 42 games. Nicklas Backstrom, the NHL's third star of the week after scoring nine points (three goals, six assists) in four games, has 26 assists in 33 games vs. the Maple Leafs.
Washington center Lars Eller (illness) missed practice Monday.