Fast Start, Late Fade – Four weeks ago tonight, the Capitals jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over the Devils in New Jersey, going up by a pair in the sixth minute of the first. Washington was unable to sustain that lead; it was outscored 5-0 the rest of the way and fell 5-2. That was the Caps’ first loss this season by a margin of more than one goal.
This Saturday night in Toronto, a similar script played out. The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the game’s sixth minute, but they were unable to put away the Maple Leafs. Toronto rolled over the Caps 6-1 the rest of the way and sent Washington home on the short end of a 6-3 score.
The Caps haven’t always fared well with early 2-0 leads this season. They’ve now lost twice in regulation in those games, once in a shootout (Oct. 12 vs. New Jersey) and they’ve twice needed a shootout to win (Oct. 17 vs. Nashville and Nov. 28 vs. Montreal) after squandering a 2-0 advantage.
Although it was playing its second game in as many nights and its fifth game in five cities in eight nights, and although it encountered some difficulties in traveling to Toronto for Saturday night’s game, Washington came out like a house of fire early.
Alex Ovechkin one-timed the Caps to a 1-0 lead on the power play at the two-minute mark of the first. After a Brooks Laich-Brendan Morrison combo narrowly missed the net, Ovechkin fed Nicklas Backstrom perfectly for a tap-in at the side of the cage to give the Caps a 2-0 lead at 5:15 of the first.
Air Canada Centre was quiet, and the Leafs were there for the putting away. Backstrom made As Good A Pass As You’ll Ever See On A Play That Did Not Result In A Goal when he sprung Alexander Semin on a breakaway in the game’s eighth minute, but Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala snared the wrister with his glove hand.
Looking back on it now, that save might have altered the course of the game.
Toskala kept denying the Caps with his glove hand, and the Caps kept trying to put it glove side. Meanwhile, the Caps had some defensive issues of their own and got into some penalty trouble, enabling the Leafs to even it up at 2-2 by the sixth minute of the second period.
“The first couple goals we give up,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich, “the puck’s on our stick in the slot and we don’t clear it to the corner which is the first rule of defensive hockey: get the puck away from your net. After that it was breakdown after breakdown and our shifts got too long and problems really compounded from there.
“We’ve got to give them credit. They worked hard tonight and they outworked us. When we don’t outwork teams – regardless of our skill level – we don’t win.”
Backstrom victimized Toskala with a short side strike midway through the second to restore Washington’s lead at 3-2, but that would be all the offense the Caps would muster. Niklas Hagman evened it up for Toronto at 3-3 when the Washington defense was unable to corral and clear a loose puck in front of rookie Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth.
Toronto took the lead just over five minutes into the third. Washington lost a defensive zone draw, and no one picked up the Leafs’ Matt Stajan going to the net. He picked up a point shot that didn’t make it through and hammered it past Neuvirth for his second of the night.
A few minutes later, the Caps had a chance to pull even when the Leafs’ Jason Blake went off for hi-sticking. But Washington turnover at the offensive blueline turned into a jailbreak the other way, and the Leafs’ Lee Stempniak deked Neuvirth and buried a shorthanded goal to all but finish the Caps off.
“I think what usually happens is you get a 2-0 lead real early,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “It looks easy and you let up. You don’t do what you’re supposed to be doing. We have a couple more chances that we are way too casual on. And all of a sudden they get one and then they get two, and they’re sitting over there going, ‘Hey boys, let’s go.’ It’s not like a tap. You can’t turn it on and off, and we couldn’t. Obviously I thought the last half of the game we played pretty badly.”
“Travel concerns don’t come into play when we’re up 2-0 five minutes into the game,” asserts Laich. “I don’t think anyone was complaining then. That’s not the reason we lost the game. We’re in control of the game, we’re doing things right, executing the game plan the coaches set out, and all of a sudden at the 10-minute mark of the first period we got away from it. We didn’t play defensive hockey and we ended up giving up six goals.”
No Magic In the Magic Number – For just the second time this season – and for the first time since Oct. 8 against the Rangers – the Caps scored three or more goals in a game and did not come away with at least a point. Washington is now 19-2-4 when it scores at least three goals in a game and 1-5-2 when it scores two or fewer.
Eight For No. 8 – For a league-leading eighth time this season, Ovechkin scored the game’s first goal on Saturday night.
Not Tonight – Saturday’s game marked the Caps’ first regulation loss in a game in which Ovechkin scored. Washington drops to 10-1-3 in games in which No. 8 scores a goal.
Multiple Men – Backstrom’s pair of goals was the 24th pair of goals recorded by a Capital in the team’s 33 games this season. Backstrom has had three two-goal games; he is one of nine Washington skaters to score two times in a game this season. Ovechkin leads the way with seven.
Not So Special – Tonight marked the first time in seven games that the Capitals allowed more than one special teams goal in a game. The Caps were victimized for two power-play and one shorthanded goal by the Leafs tonight. The last time Washington gave up more than one special teams goal in a game was in a 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens in Montreal on Nov. 28. The Caps gave up two power-play tallies in that one.
Stempniak scored the Maple Leafs’ shorthanded tonight, the fourth shorty surrendered by the Caps this season. Stempniak’s shorthanded strike is the first against the Caps this season that did not come off the stick of a defenseman. Saturday’s contest is the first in which Washington allowed a shorthanded goal and did not go on to win the game this season.
Coffee Is For Closers – Washington has been the league’s most dominant first-period team this season, outscoring the opposition by a combined 41-17 in the first 33 games this season. But Capitals’ opponents have had a 75-74 edge over Washington the rest of the way.
By The Numbers – The Caps had just three hits in the first period; Toronto had eight … Brendan Morrison was 11-for-15 (73%) in the face-off circle for the Caps … Leafs blueliners Francois Beauchemin (25:20) and Tomas Kaberle (25:10) led all skaters on both sides in ice time … Eight different players took at least one face-off for the Leafs … Jeff Schultz led the Caps with four blocked shots … The Leafs were credited with 10 takeaways to Washington’s two.
Down On The Farm – After taking a 3-0 loss to the River Rats in Albany on Friday night, the AHL Hershey Bears headed home to take on the Rochester Americans at Giant Center on Saturday night. The Bears broke out for half a dozen goals and cruised to a 6-2 win.
Hershey fell into an early 1-0 hole when Rochester scored in the game’s second minute on Saturday, but you can’t keep a good team down. The Bears roared back with five unanswered goals to take a 5-1 lead by the third minute of the second period.
Andrew Gordon (his 15th), Keith Aucoin (twice, his 10th and his 11th), Jay Beagle (his fourth) and Boyd Kane (his 11th) scored the Bears’ five unanswered tallies.
Rochester got one back in the second, so the Bears held a 5-2 advantage after 40 minutes of play.
Aucoin completed his hat trick in the third to complete the scoring on the night.
Rookie Bears goalie Braden Holtby made 34 saves in the game to run his AHL record to 3-1-1 on the season. Holtby has compiled a 1.38 GAA and a .951 save pct. in his five starts for the Bears this season.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays hosted the Trenton Devils for a second straight night at North Charleston Coliseum. And for a second straight night, the visitors were treated rudely.
Seven different Stingrays – including Caps prospect Jake Hauswirth – found the back of the net as South Carolina rolled to a 7-2 victory. Todd Ford stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced in the Stingrays nets to earn the victory.
1 - 0 WSH
2 - 0 WSH
2 - 1 WSH
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 WSH
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 TOR
5 - 3 TOR