When you find a team that is struggling, that is playing out the string, that is, well…bad, you get on them early, stand on their throats, and don’t let them up. The Washington Capitals did that in sending the Toronto Maple Leafs to their second straight 4-0 defeat on Sunday evening at Verizon Center.
It started just 33 seconds into the game when Alex Ovechkin took a nifty set pass from Nicklas Backstrom just inside the Toronto blue line, backed off defenseman Korbinian Holzer, cut to the middle, and snapped the puck through goalie James Reimer’s pads for the early 1-0 lead.
That would be it for the first period scoring, but Ovechkin made it 2-0 early in the second. With the Caps applying heavy pressure in the Toronto zone, an attempted clearing pass by Leo Komarov made it only to the blue line where John Carlson gathered it up. Carlson slid the puck to Brooks Orpik on the right point, and Orpik fired a shot at the Leafs’ net. Reimer left a rebound in the slot that Backstrom could not control, but Ovechkin circled behind him and backhanded the loose puck past Reimer’s right pad to make it 2-0 just 5:30 into the second period.
The Caps scored twice in the third period, the first coming on a power play. An Ovechkin one-timer was stopped by Reimer, but no Maple Leaf bothered to clear the rebound. Troy Brouwer jumped on the puck and slid it across to Marcus Johansson at the top of the crease to Reimer’s left. Dion Phaneuf failed to control Johansson’s stick, and Johansson was able to redirect the puck past Reimer to make it 3-0.
Joel Ward closed out the scoring with 4:53 left and the Leafs’ net empty when he took a pass from Eric Fehr just outside the Caps’ blue line and flipped it the length of the ice into the open cage for the final margin, the Caps winning by that 4-0 score.
-- Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist, his 11th multi-goal game of the season (tops in the league) and his fifth three-point game of the season (tied for sixth in the league). The three points left him with 65 points, tied for the top spot in the league with John Tavares, Jakub Voracek, and teammate Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin is technically the leader by virtue of his having the most goals of the four.
-- Holtby’s shoutout was his seventh of the season, breaking a logjam for second place with Carey Price, Ryan Miller, and Devan Dubnyk. Holtby is one behind Marc-Andre Fleury for the league lead.
-- Iron figured prominently in this game. Ovechkin hit the upright and the crossbar on a shot that might have given him a hat trick. James van Riemsdyk and Richard Panik both hit iron for Toronto when the game was still in doubt.
-- Tim Gleason played well in his debut for the Caps. In 18-plus minutes he had two shot attempts (one on goal), three hits, a takeaway, and a blocked shot early that took a bite out of his left arm but was an important play at the moment.
-- Ovechkin had six shots on goal…yawn. Jay Beagle had six shots on goal…say, WHAT?!
-- Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward each getting their 15th goal of the season makes it six Capitals with 15 or more goals this season. No team has more 15-goal scorers (Nashville and Ottawa both have six as well).
-- The Caps were not entirely buttoned-up on defense, especially on the defense. Ten of the 16 giveaways charged to the Caps were by defensemen and goalie Braden Holtby.
-- Toronto is 0-for-2015 in road games. With the loss they are 0-14-2 for the new calendar year and have not won a road game since beating the Boston Bruins in a trick shot competition, 4-3, on New Year’s Eve.
-- Ovechkin’s goal at the 33 second of the first period was the quickest goal scored by the Caps from the start of a game this season.
-- Another odd Ovechkin fact for this game... two even strength shots on goal, two goals…four power play shots on goal, no goals.
In the end…
Toronto was just what the Caps needed, a team that has the look of one that cannot wait until the season is over. And it is important to note that the Caps, while not playing a perfect game, took advantage of Toronto’s vulnerable position. Tim Gleason slid right into the third pair with Mike Green, who (along with other Caps defensemen) freely jumped into the play time and again. It is the start of a portion of the schedule that the Caps can, and frankly need, to take advantage of in their pursuit of a playoff spot. Columbus, Minnesota, and Buffalo are all opponents that the Caps can dispatch before they host the Rangers in ten days. But like they say, you have to take them one at a time. This one was a good one for the good guys.