The Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back from last night’s drubbing, defeating the Washington Capitals 3 – 2. But did you really expect a team with Tim Hunter coaching and Joey Crabb featuring heavily on the PK to actually win a game?
1. The Leafs are 5 – 5 – 0 after Washington gifted them another easy victory. It’s the Leafs 4th win on the road, and the game was really never in doubt. The Capitals late effort down 3-2 made it interesting, David Steckel’s whiff on an empty net from 15 feet out kept it interesting, but the steady supply of Washington turnovers put them in a hole too deep to dig out of.
2. Early in a choppy first period, Nazem Kadri blocked a shot in the Leafs end and hobbled off the ice. This is the second time in consecutive games that Kadri has been dinged up to make a defensive play. He played the rest of the game, but you’ve got to wonder how his body will hold up for the rest of the week. He already missed Tuesday morning’s (admittedly optional, but well attended) practice, which isn’t a great omen.
3. The Caps lead the league in power play goals against, with 12, and yet blank the Leafs on the PK. Midway through the second, John-Michael Liles finally made his return to the top unit with Dion Phaneuf. They were unsuccessful on their one outing together, and I remain wholly confused by Randy Carlyle’s adherence to the dump and chase while up a man.
4. The Caps’ Tom Poti and goaltender Michal Neuvirth can’t agree on who shouldn’t take the puck behind the net, and James van Riemsdyk sneaks in for an uncontested wrap around goal. Two short minutes later, Kessel flubbed a pass out to Cody Franson, whose stick-shattering shot rebounded to van Riemsdyk for his second goal of the period. He now leads the team with 6 goals, and is making a fool out of Paul Holmgren. THANK YOU SCHENNNNNN!
5. Not to be outdone by Neuvirth’s back-of-the-net idiocy, Ben Scrivens pulls himself out of the net in an unsuccessful attempt to cover the puck on the penalty kill. The Leafs defense turns over the puck to Tomas Kundratek, who feeds a wide open Marcus Johansson. Johansson, who had enough time to shave before taking his shot, puts it up over a sprawling Scrivens to make it 2 – 1 Leafs. He made up for it with a big cross-crease save with less than four minutes left in the third to keep the Leafs on top.
6. The Leafs’ fourth line saw some changes, with Leo Komarov lining up alongside David Steckel and Colton Orr. It was a move in the right direction, and they’ll provide a bunch of energy and snarl. But this is not the second coming of Anaheim’s Moen-Pahlsson-Niedermayer line, despite the CSN colour guy’s proclamations. Any of them would have scored on an empty net.
7. Korbinian Holzer scores his first NHL goal on a shot that deflected and skipped through Michal Neuvirth. And thanks to a questionable goaltender interference penalty on Nazem Kadri, it ended up being the game winner. Both he and Mark Fraser had a good night, after having served as the shutdown pairing at the Ricoh for the Marlies. Newly-minted playmaker Phil Kessel picked up his second apple of the game on the goal.
8. The Leafs PK remains a work in progress. I was optimistic to start the season that with a more regimented system and new personnel choices the Leafs would finally be able jump into an 80% kill rate. It’s quite simply not at that level, and soon the excuse of small sample sizes won’t suffice. All of the Capitals goals tonight were scored on the man advantage, and boy does that read familiar.
9. Don’t worry, Ovie. I threw my hands up in celebration when you didn’t score either. The erstwhile Leaf killer seems to be a shadow of his former dominant self, his once fearsome profile on the ice seems somehow neutered. He picked up a secondary assist on Mike Ribeiro’s power play goal, but was invisible until the third period. Though it could have cost the Leafs the game, I do miss the rare blend of power, finesse and showmanship he once provided nightly. Sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, I’m sure Adam Oates would agree.
10. With 20 per cent of the season in the books, I think we’re seeing that the Leafs are a “7/11” team. If everything goes right (read: competent performances by the defense, literally any goaltending), then this team could sneak into the playoffs. If everyone doesn’t buy in, they’ll be 11th. The Leafs have by no means played themselves out of playoff contention yet, but sitting at .500 and not playing Washington again until April, it’s still an uphill battle.