Game #79 Review: Washington Capitals 4 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs 1

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TORONTO, ON - APRIL 4: Matt Hunwick #2 and Brian Boyle #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs sandwich Lars Eller #20 of the Washington Capitals during the first period at the Air Canada Centre on April 4, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
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The Maple Leafs had their four-game winning streak snapped by the high-flying Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.

With the Senators and Bruins both winning, the Leafs have fallen back into the second wildcard spot with three games to go. A Tampa Bay loss keeps the Leafs five points clear of the Lightning, while the Islanders are now five back as well after an overtime win over Nashville.

Your game in ten:

1. Heading into a back-to-back against a rested Capitals team coming off of a road trip, a big goalie performance was probably the Leafs’ best hope of getting a result out of this game, but they opted to start Frederik Andersen last night in order to focus on the gettable two points against Buffalo (which went according to plan). It was pretty clear right from the drop of the puck that the Capitals weren’t going to take this game lightly; they came out like gangbusters, with Alex Ovechkin setting the tone right away on Nikita Zaitsev, and they dominated play in the opening 20 (shots were 13-3).

Outside of a short push to start the second period, the Leafs generated very little at 5v5 throughout and didn’t bear down on their few chances to get themselves back into the game on the power play (Connor Brown’s one-timer in front on the first second-period power play, Tyler Bozak’s chance in tight on the second second-period power play).

2. One of the positives tonight: Connor Brown. After getting run over by Ovechkin at the end of the first period, he came out and played a great middle frame. He set up Leo Komarov on the doorstep at the start of the period and his hustle to beat out an icing saw him draw a penalty a few minutes later. In the same period, a strong defensive play broke up a long o-zone shift by the Caps. It might’ve kicked off a turn around if he had buried his chance in front on the power play, but his line with Kadri and Komarov was the Leafs’ best.

It was Brown’s missed assignment on the PK that led to the Shattenkirk goal, but he’s prevented enough of them this season to get a pass there.

(I’m also betting Frederik Andersen would’ve gotten across better on that goal.)

3. The Leafs played a decent first seven minutes to the second period before Brown drew a power play. While their PP was sputtering, it was cut short by Marner’s holding-the-stick penalty at the offensive blue line. 1:30 later, Kevin Shattenkirk put the Caps up 2-0 on the PP.

Babcock referred to it as a bad penalty after the game. It’s not the first this year for Marner, whose 18 minor penalties leave him one behind Matt Martin and Roman Polak — and not one of Marner’s has been off-setting.

4. Here is the penalty breakdown for Marner: eight hooking calls, five tripping calls, one slashing call, one high-sticking call, two holding calls, and one interference call. A good number of them have come in the offensive zone.

He’ll need to learn what he can get away with and what he can’t, and in what situations/areas of the ice a risk is worth taking.

5. The Capitals’ first goal was a really pretty goal created through sharp execution off of the cycle, but it’s the second and third goals — the second coming from the bad penalty, the third being Gardiner’s total brain lapse — that felt avoidable in a game where the Leafs had to be sure not to hurt themselves if they wanted a chance at the end.

6. Brian Boyle left the game in the first period and never returned due to an upper-body issue. The injury came when attempting to finish a check in the neutral zone on Tom Wilson, who saw Boyle coming and stepped into him. The point of contact looked to be on the inside of his shoulder/collarbone area.

We’ll wait for word on the seriousness of the injury, but it’s a tough loss if it is one. Boyle has transformed the Leafs into a four-line team since his arrival and he’s helped them do a better job of protecting leads, at times sliding onto Matthews’ line late in games as a bit of a security blanket for Babcock.

Put me down for wanting The Goat called up rather than Ben Smith in if Boyle is out for any length of time. Gauthier has a goal in two consecutive for the Marlies.

7. It was a meaningless goal, but credit to Nazem Kadri for continuing to compete in garbage time and drawing the penalty that led to the power play goal. You never know; maybe spoiling the shutout helps the Leafs feel a little better about themselves heading into a huge game on Thursday.

That was such a deft touch by JVR, who now has a four-game points streak going.

8. A couple of other streaks stayed alive in the final 10 minutes of the third: Auston Matthews extended his shots streak to 79 games, meaning he still hasn’t gone a game without a shot in his NHL career. There is only one other player in the league (>60 GP) with a shot in every game this season — Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton.

With Mitch Marner’s power play goal in the final minute, the Leafs haven’t been shut out in 56 games dating all the way back to November 30, 2016 versus Calgary.

9. Love Connor Carrick’s mind for the game and wanted to highlight a few of his quotes tonight, in absence of anything more worthwhile on my end.

They had good sticks, they had good speed through the neutral zone. Every night you talk about the importance of slowing them down, and playing in their end for a bit so they’re not in their fresher part of their shift skating downhill on you. But they were able to kind of tilt the ice their way, and the game gets more uphill for you as a defenceman when the other team is able to do that. It’s the same thing every team talks about: Go get the other team’s d-men. It’s a hunt-the-defencemen mentality for all 30 teams.

There were no excuses. I don’t know what their schedule looked like the last few times playing us, and I don’t think anybody cares. For us, there are always more difficult and more demanding parts of your schedule. That’s what they pay you for – they pay you to play the hard games. The easy games where you’re feeling good and the execution is strong, you play those games for free. You’re on the payroll to be a pro and maybe we didn’t handle it with as much success as we would’ve liked.

There is a level of execution they play with, a level of energy, and a level of physicality that I think is going to be a staple of the teams that have made the playoffs now and are going to have success. It’s our job to answer that. A lot of nights we have this year. That’s why we’re in the position we’re in.

Also thought this was a great 4v4 shift by Carrick in the first period:

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10. As much as the Capitals played their A-game tonight, the weight of the schedule was pretty visible in the Leafs’ legs. It really highlights just how important this latest hot stretch was in terms of taking care of business against weaker opponents. Even one more loss along the way and it’s a whole different ballgame heading into this brutal three-games-in-four-nights against Tampa, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

The Leafs magic number is now two, meaning two points dropped by Tampa and New York in their final three games, or two points pointed gained by Toronto, will clinch the Leafs’ first playoff berth since 2013 and the first in a full 82-game season since 2004.

That said, the goal is bigger than just getting in, and tonight’s game has to serve as some extra motivation to avoid that second wildcard spot.


Game Flow


Shot Attempts Heatmap


Post-Game: Mike Babcock


Game In Six

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