TLDR; The Washington Capitals win 3-2 on the road, and goals by Alex Ovechkin, Brett Connolly, and Toronto-native Tom Wilson keep the Caps within a single point of the Metro division-leading New York Islanders.
As to be expected when these two face-off, the first period was fast and crisp. Two massive saves early-on by Caps netminder Braden Holtby kept the score 0-0. The Capitals did a great job playing of keep-away, and successfully seemed to ‘bother’ the Leafs, as they gave them very little room to operate. Both teams registered a number of high-quality scoring chances, but it was the Capitals who had the better of the two. Due to a lack of coverage and a scrambling Frederik Andersen in the crease, the Caps had two empty-net opportunities, but were unable to pot the puck. Capitals forward Jakub Vrana is truly beginning to develop and mature as a player, and is now creating his own opportunities in front of the net. Although neither team scored in the first period, the first frame was neither slow, nor boring. No power plays to speak of either, but the Capitals registered 12 hits and 9 blocked shots. Both Holtby and Andersen appeared confident and comfortable, blocking all 21 shots faced between the two. Tonight, for whomever scores first, the luck will be ever in their favor.
Four minutes into the second period, The Capitals were awarded the first power play of the night, as Morgan Rielly received a two-minute minor penalty for holding. It did not take long for captain Alex Ovechkin to score his 43rd goal of the season, giving the good guys a 1-0 lead. Shortly thereafter, the Capitals returned to the power play, as Nikita Zaitsev received a two-minute penalty for interference, but did not score. For a team that leads the league in fewest penalty minutes, the Toronto Maple Leafs have landed in the penalty box eight times and have drawn too-many-men penalties twice in the last 4 games (Toronto Maple Leafs). Halfway through the period, the Capitals faced their first penalty kill, as defenseman Michal Kempny went to the box for tripping. After successfully keeping Toronto off the board during the penalty, Brett Connolly snagged his 15th goal of the season, and the Leafs suddenly found themselves down 2 goals to nil (Washington Capitals). Per Capitals analyst Alan May, the Caps lead the league in second period goals with 80 tallies through 60 games.
With just under 30 seconds remaining in the second, tempers flared, and both Andre Burakovsky of the Caps and Connor Brown of the Leafs were sent to the penalty box with matching two-minute penalties for crosschecking and hooking, respectively. The teams will start the third period playing four-on-four for another 90 seconds.
While neither team scored on the remainder of a 4v4 stint from the second it did not take long for Toronto to cut a two-goal deficit to one. A deflection off of a failed wrap-around attempt by Andreas Johnsson gave the Leafs some life in Scotiabank Arena, and eliminated the chance of a shutout by Holtby. The Capitals need to improve on their face-offs, and perhaps another acquisition prior to the trade deadline could help the team in that category. Moments later, Caps defenseman John Carlson was called for hooking, and the Caps went back on the penalty kill. Much to the dismay of Leafs fans, Tom Wilson, shorthanded, scored his 16th goal of the season, and re-established Washingtons’ 2-goal lead. In a flurry of goals and penalties, the Capitals received another power play, as Jake Muzzin was called for slashing, but did not convert. With about 30 seconds remaining in the game, John Tavares tipped up the Leafs 3-2, but the Capitals were able to sneak out of Toronto with a win. Braden Holtby stopped 40 of 42 shots faced, but he could not have done it without the Capitals’ defense.
FiCP Three Takeaways of the Game:
- The Capitals defense was exactly what we needed it to be; strong to the puck, blocking passing and shooting lanes, and protecting Holtby when compromised.
- The Caps special teams are improving; the Power Play units are scoring, and the Penalty Kill units are keeping opponents off the board.
- Braden Holtby has reached his mid-season form.
theScore. (2019). Washington Capitals Roster. Retrieved from https://www.thescore.com/nhl/teams/15/roster.
theScore. (2019). Toronto Maple Leafs Stats. Retrieved from https://www.thescore.com/nhl/teams/5/stats.