Oh For The Road – Coming off Thursday night’s 4-1 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg, the Caps wanted to come out strong on Saturday against the Leafs in the final game of a three-game road trip.
It didn’t happen. Washington was trounced 7-1 at the hands of the Maple Leafs on Saturday night in Toronto in front of a Hockey Night in Canada television audience.
The Leafs grabbed an early 1-0 lead on a Tim Connolly goal at 1:39 of the first, but the Caps rebounded to even it up on Brooks Laich’s third goal of the season just 51 seconds later. Although they were outplayed in the first, the Caps were less than a minute away from getting to the dressing room even at 1-1 after 20.
With 44 seconds left in the first, the Caps were victimized on a 3-on-2 break, and Matt Frattin’s first NHL goal.
“We knew Toronto was going to come out [hard] Saturday night in their building,” says Laich. “We knew they were going to come out and attack us hard. Especially the [Phil] Kessel-[Joffrey] Lupul-[Tyler] Bozak line; it was a good challenge for us to match up against them. [It was] 1-1 with a minute left. [Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun] held us in.
“[The Leafs] expended a lot of energy. We think we’re in a good position and we make a mistake on the second goal with a minute left. They make a good play, they make a good shot. Whatever, but it’s still 2-1. They threw their best at us and it’s 2-1 and we’re in an okay position. Then we get into penalty trouble and from there things fell apart after that.”
Toronto outshot the Caps 16-8 in the first frame, and Toronto’s offensive zone domination was even more pronounced than that. The Leafs fired 32 first-period shots (16 on net, seven that were blocked and nine that missed) while Washington had just a dozen (eight on net, three blocked, one miss) shot bids of its own in the game’s first 20 minutes.
If that wasn’t ugly enough, there were the 20 minutes of hockey that followed that.
Washington was pillaged for four unanswered goals – on just 10 shots on goal – in the second period as the Leafs cruised to a 6-1 lead. The Caps outshot the Leafs 33-13 over the game’s final 40 minutes – and 56-25 in shot attempts – but Washington was outscored 5-0 during that span.
“I’m pretty sure we were all ready,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Even after they scored the first goal, we came right back. We knew they were pretty quick and they came at us pretty good but I thought we weathered the storm. Then they scored that goal in the last minute. Then they get bang, bang, bang in the second period. That was it.
“I think we’ve been guilty of making mental mistakes that we shouldn’t be making,” laments Laich. “Myself, tonight I’m at fault on the fifth or sixth goal on the PK. I don’t get the puck down [ice], which is a mental lapse. That falls on me. I take blame for it.
“All over the ice tonight I thought we made bad decisions. But if we’re making bad decisions because of effort, if you’re making mistakes because you’re trying as hard as you can and it’s an effort play and mistakes are going to happen, we’ll live with that. But if we’re making mistakes because of missed assignments, not moving our feet, bad mental mistakes, those we can’t live with.”
The Caps dominated late, outshooting the Leafs 18-3 in the third. Even then Washington was still outscored 1-0 by their hosts in the final 20 minutes, and the Leafs were in cruise control at that point, saving energy for their Sunday afternoon road game against the Hurricanes in Carolina.
“They came out hard and they were buzzing and they put a lot of pressure on you in your own zone to make plays to get out,” says Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman. “We didn’t handle it well in the first period. We were 1-1 going into the last minute of the period, and then they scored that goal on the 3-on-2. But that’s going to happen in games. You have to be resilient enough to put that behind you and come back in the second period and have a good period. We just didn’t do it.”
Saturday’s loss leaves the Caps with nothing to show for a three-game road trip, their longest of the season to date. Washington is now 4-6 on the road this season and has dropped six of its last eight on the road.
The last time Washington came home empty-handed from a trip of three or more games in length was a three-game trip to Ottawa, Florida and Pittsburgh from Jan. 30-Feb. 3, 2007 when the Caps lost all three in regulation by a combined score of 11-5.
No Offense – The Caps have now been limited to one goal in three straight games for the first time in the regular season in nearly eight years. The last time a Washington team was limited to one or zero goals in each of three straight contests was Dec. 27-31, 2003 when the Caps were outscored by a combined total of 13-3 in three straight setbacks.
This time around, they’ve been outscored 14-3 in their last three games.
Laich scored on Washington’s first shot on goal in Saturday’s game. Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson stopped all 40 he faced the rest of the way.
Best Players – Washington’s best players have not been its best players through the team’s recent slump, and that was the case again on Saturday. The six players who comprised the Caps’ top two lines at the start of Saturday’s game combined to pile up an aggregate minus-10 with 15 shots on goal and no points.
Only two of those 15 shots on goal came before Toronto’s fourth goal and only one – a Nicklas Backstrom wraparound bid – came from inside 40 feet from the net.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin finished the night with a team-high eight shots on goal. But Ovechkin’s first shot on goal was a slapshot from 47 feet more than eight minutes into the second period. The Caps were already down 4-1 at that point. His final four shots of the night came in the last half of the third when Toronto was up 6-1.
No HNIC Magic – Heading into Saturday night’s game against the Leafs in Toronto, the Capitals had some fairly impressive stats when playing on the Hockey Night In Canada stage north of the border.
Since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Washington bench on Nov. 22, 2007 – and prior to Saturday night’s game against the Leafs – the Caps owned a 9-4-1 record on HNIC, with all of those contests being played on the road.
Furthermore, Ovechkin had dominated those games. Playing in 13 of the 14 HNIC games under Boudreau, the Caps’ captain racked up 19 goals and eight assists for 27 points in those games.
(Hat tip and stick tap to Caps Radio’s Ben Raby for those HNIC stats.)
Shaking Off The Rust – Leafs forward Colton Orr got a sweater for just the third time in 20 games in Saturday night’s game with the Caps. He had been a healthy scratch in 13 straight games prior to Saturday’s game against Washington.
Toronto’s Jay Rosehill skated in just his seventh game of the season; he had been a healthy scratch in nine of the previous 11 games.
Take It Easy – With the Maple Leafs missing so many regulars up front, head coach Ron Wilson had been riding his star players hard of late. League-leading scorer Kessel had played over 25 minutes in each of Toronto’s two previous games and linemate Lupul had played roughly 25 minutes a game in each of the Leafs’ previous two tilts.
With another game looming tomorrow afternoon, Wilson was able to rest his stars after the first frame.
Kessel skated 8:18 in the first, 7:26 in the second and a mere 4:08 in the third for a total of 19:52 on the night. It was his lowest workload in the team’s last six games.
Lupul logged 7:11 in the first, 6:55 in the second and just 4:08 in the third for a night’s work of 18:14, his lowest ice time total in the last six games.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears opened the weekend playing in Syracuse on Friday night against the Crunch. The Bears wound up on the short end of a 3-2 shootout decision in that one.
Boyd Kane (his fifth of the season) and Jacob Micflikier (his eighth) scored for Hershey while Dany Sabourin made 25 saves in the Bears’ nets.
Saturday night brought the Bears back to Giant Center for a match-up with the Albany Devils. Hershey dropped a 6-5 shootout decision in that one.
Chris Bourque scored twice (his eighth and ninth of the season) and Graham Mink (his fourth), Dmitry Orlov (his fourth) and Kane also scored for the Bears. Braden Holtby was reached for five goals on 32 shots in the Hershey nets.
The 7-4-3-2 Bears are now in third place in the AHL’s East Division, five points behind front-running Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays started a home-and-home set on the road against division rival Gwinnett on Friday night. The Gladiators downed the Stingrays 4-2 in that one. Chris Higgins and Pierre-Luc O’Brien scored for South Carolina while Daren Machesney made 23 stops in a losing effort in goal.
Saturday’s game was back at the North Charleston Coliseum. Behind a 24-save effort in goal from Philipp Grubauer and goals from O’Brien, Greg Stewart and Trent Campbell, the Stingrays skated off with a 3-2 win.
South Carolina hosts Gwinnett again on Sunday. With a regulation win, the 9-6-0-1 Stingrays can take over sole possession of first place in the ECHL’s South Division. They currently trail the Gladiators by a single point.
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 23:49 in ice time and four blocked shots … Ovechkin was on the ice for 6:39 of the Capitals’ total of 9:27 in power play time on Saturday … Laich led all Caps forwards with 19:51 in ice time … Karl Alzner paced the Caps with 3:48 in shorthanded ice time … John Erskine led the Caps with three hits … Backstrom and Laich each won 11 of 17 draws (65%) … Dion Phaneuf led the Leafs with 23:53 in ice time … Luke Schenn and Cody Franson each had five hits to pace Toronto.