The Toronto Maple Leafs buried the Washington Capitals in a 7-3 win powered by a dominant effort from the Auston Matthews and Max Domi-led first line. 

The Leafs never trailed in this game, nursing one-goal leads for multiple stretches before eventually blowing out the Caps in the third period. Matthews scored two goals (a third was disallowed by review), Domi piled up a career-high four assists, William Nylander and John Tavares both scored (including a late power-play goal), and Joseph Woll earned his first win of March in the net. Just what the doctor ordered after an off-night in Philadelphia.

Your game in 10:

1.     Starting games on time was a point of emphasis after surrendering a quick goal last night in Philadelphia, and the Leafs fixed the problem in this one at least as far as the opening shift was concerned. They tallied just 16 seconds into the game with an Auston Matthews goal on a sweet feed from Max Domi.

The play began with Bobby McMann, who was skating on the top line in place of Tyler Bertuzzi, who did not play for the first 10 minutes due to illness. McMann stood tall on the wall and obstructed a Washington pass up the boards, helping to jar it free. Domi was quick to the loose puck below the goal line and slid it out into the net-front area, where Matthews was in position to fire it into the net before Charlie Lindgren and the Capitals knew what hit them.

2.     The Leafs scored the first goal, but the Capitals owned the territorial battle in the first period. They out-chanced the Leafs 15-5 and 6-1 in the high-danger department. Toronto was generally on their heels, looking very much like a team who played the night before against a team in Washington that was fresh and hungry. They were mostly only able to chip the puck out when they were able to break the Capitals’ cycle, rarely sustaining zone time in the opening 20 minutes.

This was the part of the game where Joseph Woll was particularly important. He didn’t make any eye-popping saves, but he made some pretty difficult ones look easy with how poised and positionally sound he was in the net. He turned away a couple of looks from Alex Ovechkin, and he made a really solid stop on a point-blank Tom Wilson chance toward the end of the period after Joel Edmundson mishandled a pass from Woll below the goal line (amidst a forgettable first period for the Edmundson-Liljegren pairing overall).

Woll was the main reason the Leafs took a lead into the locker room, leading 1-0 after the first despite not much in the way of chances after the Matthews goal (a one-handed rush chance from Pontus Holmberg came the closest). Overall, it was not a particularly strong opening 20, but crucially, the Leafs held the lead on the road in a tired situation.

3.     The second period was much sharper for Toronto, and like the first, they scored early. They first needed to dodge a bullet at their own end on a 2-on-1 against where William Nylander did just enough as the F3 tracking back to apply a little bit of pressure following a Liljegren pinch up the ice.

Immediately after the dodged bullet, John Tavares muscled a puck out of the defensive zone and ahead to an in-flight Nylander, who flew down the right-wing side and uncorked a filthy rip over Lindgren and just under the bar.

The puck was in and out before you could blink — a true shooter’s shot. The goal was Nylander’s 38th, putting him on pace for 46, which would establish a new career high. He also picked up two assists tonight to make it a three-point night. Nylander is up to 91 in the points category, making him the seventh player in the NHL this season to break 90. It is already a career-high, and he’s easily on pace for his first 100-point season (tracking for 110 at the current clip).

4.     Up 2-0, the Leafs exerted more control over the 5v5 play in the second period. They out-attempted, out-shot, and out-chanced Washington at even strength in the second,  establishing a bit of rhythm line-over-line with the long change.

Pontus Holmberg‘s line got a look right off the draw, and Matthew Knies‘ rebound look grazed the outside of the post. Tavares and Nylander connected for another close call, and Connor Dewar went a partial breakaway opportunity after Nick Robertson made a defensive play on old friend Rasmus Sandin, who was attempting one of a few unsuccessful toe-drags in the offensive zone in this game.

The Leafs were really humming along even as Washington netminder Charlie Lindgren was keeping his team within striking distance. The Caps then went to their first power play, sending into action a Leafs PK that has too often allowed the opposition to re-gain a foothold in games this season.

The penalty itself is magnified because of the PK weakness, but it was indeed self-inflicted and avoidable. Matthew Knies needed to live to fight another day on the play by simply chipping it off the wall in the defensive zone instead of making a meal of it, leading to a turnover and a trip on Tom Wilson.

On the PK, Simon Benoit fanned on an opportunity to clear up the wall, leaving the Leafs overloaded without the puck, and their recovery wasn’t as quick as it maybe could’ve been. As a result, the puck was switched and one-timed into the net from Alex Ovechkin’s office.

5.     The Capitals nearly tied it right after the two teams returned to even strength. Sonny Milano slid a pass to Dylan Strome, but Woll stopped Strome’s chance in tight. The Leafs then got back to their play-driving ways, and during an offensive-zone possession, Auston Matthews found the back of the net again.

The Domi-Matthews-Bertuzzi line won an offensive-zone draw and worked over the Capitals on the cycle, starting with a beastly effort in the corner by an outnumbered Matthews. They were grinding the Capitals down before Matthews, from high in the zone, measured one through traffic to make it 3-1.

Matthews’ immediate signal toward Bertuzzi after the goal said it all; Lindgren was dealing with a faceful of Bertuzzi’s pants on this play thanks to a perfect screen by #59.

Unfortunately, the Leafs gave this goal right back. Nylander curled up off the rush and found Bobby McMann for a prime look in the slot that could’ve all but ended the game at 4-1 — McMann fired high — before the Capitals counterattacked and the Leafs were too loose defensively in what started as a simple 3v2 situation in their favour.

Rielly and McCabe sagged deep against the rush, and when Tavares disrupted the puck carrier on the backcheck, McCabe couldn’t help clear a loose puck from the middle of the slot. The Capitals pounced on it, and a Sandin shot rebounded off the backboards before Connor McMichael banked it in off of Woll.

6.      Just as they shook off the first Washington goal, the Leafs responded perfectly to the second Capitals tally.

As was the case all night, the Matthews-led top line did much of the heavy lifting, creating another cycle shift that hemmed the Capitals in. Domi executed a neat play high in the zone before Matthews made a nice play off the wall to go low-to-high to Conor Timmins. The Timmins blast went wide, but Matthews pounced on the rebound for his third of the night and seventh hat trick of the season.

… or not. The Capitals challenged for offsides on the entry, which came a full 23 seconds before the goal. It did appear that Bertuzzi was offside, so the replay ruling was enforced correctly. Still, I hate that this rule exists and continue to advocate for a statute of limitations on offside reviews. If a goal occurs more than 10 seconds after an illegal entry, the argument that it was created by the entry begins to lose its luster. In this case, the entry had nothing to do with the goal, which came after the Leafs worked the Caps on the cycle.

The good news is that justice was served in the form of a fourth Leaf goal before the period was over. This was also an offensive-zone cycle shift for that top line after a faceoff win; this time, a puck was thrown on net by Domi that deflected in off the body of Jake McCabe, who rotated down into the mid-slot.

The Toronto top line’s hunger along the walls, linkup play with the puck, and the dynamic movement/five-man rotations off the puck within their o-zone possessions were far too much for the Capitals to handle defensively throughout the game. They were really purposeful about getting pucks to the net with traffic, and the results speak for themselves.

7.      The Leafs went the first 40 minutes without a power play, but they received a sizable helping of them in the third period.

Their first came and went early in the third period after a hooking call against Alex Ovechkin. John Carlson went to the box for slashing just over a minute after Ovechkin was released from the sin bin, and on this one, the Leafs were at least able to hold the zone for a considerable amount of time, but again, they didn’t generate much in the way of chances.

The Caps scored right after at five-on-five, creating instant regret about the failure to put the game away on the two power plays. This goal resulted from a nightmare sequence from Simon Benoit, who scooped up the puck in the corner of the defensive zone while both teams were changing and bizarrely skated into his own team’s traffic up the wall by the bench, leading to a turnover.

Strome skated in on a 2v1, benefitting from added space due to an uncalled reverse pick set by the Capital trailing Strome to eliminate the back-checking Benoit. With all the time in the world, Strome outwaited McCabe’s commitment to negating the Ovechkin pass before sliding it over to Ovechkin for #8’s second of the night.

Benoit threw a number of good, hard hits in this game and was off to a strong start to the night before a tough middle portion — two individual misplays leading directly to goals against — undid those positives. Looking to give the coaching staff something to think about with Brodie scratched and Lyubushkin sick, Benoit needed a cleaner game than this despite plenty of good moments.

8.      The sinking feeling that the Leafs were letting the Capitals hang around too long in the game evaporated when the Leafs buried the Caps in the span of just over a minute.

Not long after Ovechkin’s second goal to make it 4-3, William Nylander sped through the neutral zone, cut down the wing, and feathered a pass right through John Carlson. It was on the tape of Bobby McMann, who quickly one-timed the shot through Charlie Lindgren before he was set to make it 5-3.

Before you could digest the fifth goal, the Leafs scored a sixth as the top line continued its magical night. Max Domi‘s extra effort to recover a puck on the wall created the opportunity for Matthews in the circle, where Matthews did his best Marner impression. A pretty spin and no-look backhand pass found Bertuzzi, who finished off the easy goal for his 15th of the season and eighth goal in his last 12 games.

It was a slow start to the year from both new Leafs, but the increased investment in secondary scoring with the Domi and Bertuzzi signings over the offseason is now paying dividends for the Leafs — Domi has 14 points in his last 16 games — and it’s particularly notable/valuable at a time when one of their superstars is absent. It’s a huge part of the Leafs’ high-scoring ways continuing unabated during Marner’s injury thus far, and it makes them that much more promising/deeper offensively once healthy.

9.      All the wind was out of the Capitals’ sails after those two quick goals, and the Leafs remained the better team at 5v5 during the brief periods when the final frame was played at even strength. The Leafs were soon back on the PP after a too-many-men call on Washington. This time, the Leafs created a Grade-A scoring chance on the PP, but Bertuzzi whiffed on an empty net off the rebound of a Matthews shot.

A couple of minutes went by before Tom Wilson dangerously swung his stick at Noah Gregor, catching him up high and earning a double major, one that was poised to eat about half of the remaining time in the game. The Leafs used all that PP time to salt the game away before eventually cashing in during the waning moments of the man advantage.

It wasn’t at all a dangerous power play before the final minute when Nylander cut into the middle and passed it over to John Tavares, who patiently pulled it to his backhand and lifted the puck past Lindgren for Toronto’s seventh goal of the game (and first PP tally).

It was far from a perfect night on the man advantage for the Leafs, but they needed to at least salvage something on this double minor, if for no other reason than to generate some positive vibes ahead of Saturday’s game vs. Edmonton. Mission accomplished.

10.    This was a solid win for Toronto in a back-to-back situation, but before we wrap up, let’s finish with more praise for the top line.

Matthews with Bertuzzi and Domi really flashed something intriguing, with Matthews and Domi demonstrating real chemistry starting in the Flyers game. Domi’s playmaking ability, as a respectable substitute for Marner’s, meshes well with Matthews, and hypothetically, Matthews’ defensive game could help paper over Domi’s issues off the puck. It clearly energizes Domi’s game whenever he’s depended on for responsibility up the lineup, which is an admirable and valuable trait.

With this data in mind, the idea of Marner and Matthews driving separate lines as needed — certainly not all the time, but as matchups and circumstances dictate in the playoffs — seems as plausible as ever should Keefe be open to the possibility.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Joe Bowen & Jim Ralph Game Highlights