Leafs Break Out Against Capitals 7-1
Two struggling teams collided at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. Both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals came into the game with identical 1-4-1 records in their last six games. While the Leafs were said to be struggling and regressing to the norm, the Capitals were in a mild funk that all good teams go through. Of course the Leafs were missing seven regulars with injury meaning that 33% of their salary cap was sitting in the press box watching the game in suits. The Leafs also decided to start Jonas Gustavsson for the first time in 11 days. It seemed that the Leafs were a perfect tonic for the struggling Caps.
Well, things didn’t follow the storyline that people expected. The Leafs came out of the gate strong. Joffrey Lupul stripped Jeff Schultz less than two minutes into the game and set up Tim Connolly for his second goal of the season. Connolly’s goal was a welcome sight as the Leafs had been struggling to produce secondary scoring. A dormant and sluggish Capitals team equalized on their first shot of the game. Although the shot was deflected, Gustavsson was down way too early and shouldn’t have been beaten on his short side. The Leafs though continued to press. The blue and white were territorially dominant, and outshot the Capitals 16-8 in the first period. With less than a minute to go in the opening frame the Leafs were rewarded when super prospect Joe Colborne set up Matt Frattin for his first NHL goal in 17 games. It was a perfect shot, off of a perfect pass and a welcome sight because the Leafs definitely need some offensive help from their other lines.
Toronto began the second period in a similar fashion to how they ended the first. Tyler Bozak capitalized on an early power play, and four minutes later Phil Kessel scored his league leading 14th goal. Joffrey Lupul made the play to set up both goals, and the on fire winger had three points in the first 26 minutes of the game.
Gustavsson held the Capitals at bay for the remainder of the night. The maligned Leaf goalie was a force on the night stopping forty consecutive shots after being beaten on the first one. Gustavsson was strong in his positioning, and allowed his big frame to do the bulk of the work on the night. In perhaps his best performance of his Leafs career, Gustavsson frustrated the Capitals snipers all night. Late in the second the Leafs got goals from Lupul (fourth point of the night) and defenseman Cody Franson scored his first of the season off of a nice feed from Tim Connolly. The much publicized hammer shot that Franson arrived to town with was finally displayed, and for the second straight game the former Predators blueliner impressed.
Toronto was also perfect on the night on the penalty kill, holding the Capitals scoreless in all five of their opportunities. Alex Ovechkin was a ghost for the first part of this game, and only seemed to become engaged after the game was out of reach. Ovechkin finished a -3 on the night, and seemed disinterested for most of the night. The Capitals were a mess all night, and it just seemed to be one of those games where nothing could go their way.
The Leafs played their best game of the season, and while looking great, one doesn’t know if the Leafs success was as a result of their effort or the Caps struggles. David Steckel scored a shorthanded goal in the final minute in his first game against his old team. The Leafs received offense tonight from three out of four lines, and it was certainly a welcome sight.
With this victory the Leafs moved back into first place in the North East Division (tied with Buffalo), only one point out of the Conference lead. Considering they’ve been able to maintain this positioning in light of all the injuries is a great sign.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Joffrey Lupul – The winger continues to impress in his bounce back season. Lupul finished the game with four points and was especially productive at key points in the game. Lupul sits three points behind teammate Kessel for the league lead in points and is tied for third overall. A significant upgrade over Joey Crabb from last season, Lupul has been just as important to the Leafs success this season as Kessel.
Capitals: Karl Alzner – This was a real tough one since the Capitals were horrible from top to bottom tonight. Alzner is a strong shutdown defender who possesses the character that this team lacks among their core players. The former fifth overall pick finished the game a +1 in his 18:40 tonight.
Next Game: The Leafs will look to bank some more points as they face the pathetic Carolina Hurricanes Sunday afternoon. A reunion game tonight, as the Leafs will see former teammates Tomas Kaberle, Tim Brent, Jiri Tlusty and Alex Ponikarovsky.