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Maple Leafs fall 4-2 to Capitals via Ovechkin hat-trick

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A better effort, but a worse result.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame

  • Not much of note to discuss here. Mike Babcock has switched up the lines for the umpteenth time, this time to the Leafs’ season opening groups, as follows:
  • Meanwhile, Washington has some weird lines of their own, playing Tom Wilson with their two best forwards.
  • We’ll see how it works. They have the decided edge in goal with Braden Holtby going up against Curtis McElhinney

First Period

  • [20:00] Alright, lets get started. Kadri line starts against Backstrom’s, with Rielly/Hainsey and Orlov/Niskanen on the rear.
  • [18:10] I had forgotten what it was like to watch Roman Polak skate. I didn’t miss it.
  • [17:31] Borgman with a quietly nice play behind his own net to stop a centring pass, after Polak turned it over in his own zone.
  • [15:33] About five minutes in, this game is very short on quality. Neither team doing much of anything - it’s just ping-ponging between zones without anything happening. It is very clear that both teams played last night.
  • [14:55] The Bozak line has the best shift of the game for either team, which isn’t saying much. They got two low-danger shots and some zone time, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
  • [14:37] And immediately after, a unfortunate bounce gives Jay Beagle a shot from the high slot, which McElhinney adeptly deals with.
  • [13:18] Now the Matthews line gets their first solid shift of the game, as they buzz below the net and generate a wraparound from Auston. Leafs starting to play.
  • [12:57] Another strong shift! This time, JvR gains the zone, and Bozak makes a fantastic backhand pass to Marner, streaking to the net, who gets it on net and is hooked in the process. Leafs to the power play, and a real nice play by those forwards to generate it.
  • [10:57] Unfortunately, nothing of note happens during that time.
  • [10:08] The Leafs generate some positivity after the power play, however. Ron Hainsey stood out in particular, generating a couple shots on Holtby, after the usual workmanlike effort from players like Zach Hyman and Connor Brown.
  • [7:17] It has been a solid start for the Leafs, but it comes undone for them in just a moment. After a solid shift by Kadri’s group, Ovechkin does it all himself, exiting the zone, eluding Komarov in the neutral zone, and snapping it by McElhinney for a 1-0 Capitals lead. Great play from an all-time great player.
  • [5:20] The game returns to it’s regular flow afterwards, with the Leafs getting the better of the chances, though not by an overwhelming margin.
  • [4:30] Even the fourth line is getting in on the territorial control right now... but again, no high-end chances created.
  • [3:10] After an icing has the fourth line go up against Backstrom and Ovi, McElhinney misplays the puck behind his own net, leaving Kadri’s group to scramble in their own zone against Kuznetsov’s.
  • [1:35] I think the Bozak line has looked really solid to start the game. JvR nearly capitalizes off a Madison Bowey turnover, and they get some more zone time afterwards too.
  • [0:53] Hainsey takes a puck-over-glass penalty, and the Leafs will have to kill off a penalty to end the first and start the second if they want to remain in striking distance.
  • [0:46] Welp, that didn’t happen. A rolling puck off a draw sees Ovechkin react first, and he absolutely rips one by McElhinney. 2-0 Capitals. I’d like to be mad at someone here, but sometimes you gotta just tip your cap. That was ridiculously audacious to even try.
  • [0:00] Hockey is a cruel game. The Leafs started far better tonight than last night. Their reward is being stuck two.

Second Period

  • [19:01] Second period now underway. As it stands right now, I don’t have an issue with how the Leafs played. Matthews’ and Bozak’s group are clearly outplaying their opposition on Washington, while Ovechkin’s line is beating Kadri’s. The fourth line battle has been a bit of a wash.
  • [18:20] Of course, as I say that, Kuznetsov’s line has a good line against Matthews’.
  • [16:05] Ahh, that’s annoying. Marleau tries to run a bit of a screen on Wilson, who makes a meal of it and draws the call, eliminating what seemed like a good chance. The Capitals are on the power play again.
  • [14:22] The Leafs do a much better job of the penalty kill this time, including a spirited forecheck by Zach Hyman, which generates a bit of applause. Brown also had a couple moments where he got his stick between a Capitals pass.
  • [13:19] Another really strong shift for the Bozak group, playing with Borgman and Polak. Worth noting that a plurality of their shifts have come against Washington’s third line, which has an obvious drop off from their top two. But this is exactly why the Leafs forward depth is theoretically an advantage.
  • [10:00] The Leafs are having serious trouble staying onside, and nothing makes me madder than that. Offsides suck.
  • [8:59] Well, that sucked more. TJ Oshie makes a great play on his own boards to chip it up to Jakub Vrana, who outraces Zaitsev for a breakaway and puts it past McElhinney. After starting the game poorly, Kuznetsov’s group has soundly outplayed Matthews’ in the second. 3-0 Capitals.
  • [8:26] The Leafs take another offensive zone penalty, as Martin cross-checks John Carlson in front of the net. It can definitely be interpreted as a penalty, but I feel like there are a lot of those cross-checks that regularly go uncalled. The lack of consistency is annoying. In any case, the Capitals can really put it to bed (if it’s not already) with a goal on this power play.
  • [6:35] The Leafs kill off the penalty without incident. But as is their wont this season, their play really has taken a dive in the second. At this point, adjusting for score and venue, the Capitals are actually controlling the shot clock.
  • [5:40] Marner tumbles into the ref and takes a spill. Been that kind of night.
  • [3:39] This game really seems to suit Washington right now - they’re killing it off effectively, as the Leafs offense has been nowhere near as potent in the second frame.
  • [1:55] Babcock does his standard line-shuffling, and Brown takes Nylander’s place on the Matthews line. Not sure where Willie has gone. Looks like the fourth line. Incidentally, Matthews nearly gets the Leafs on the board on the goalmouth, but Holtby stops it.
  • [0:11] Marner hits Bozak with a beautiful cross-ice pass, but for some reason, his stick isn’t on the ice and it bounces harmlessly away. That’s frustrating. Marner has looked really good, by the way.
  • [0:00] The period ends. We got a hill to climb now.

Third Period

  • [18:36] As expected, Brown still on the Matthews line. And it pays immediate dividends, as they’re on the ice for a Jake Gardiner goal! He doesn’t unleash the slapper often, but he does it now, and it works. 3-1 Capitals. Matthews gets the assist.
  • [17:08] Nylander is playing with the fourth line, and immediately, he shows he’s way above fourth line minutes, setting up a Zaitsev shot that leads to a scramble in front. Leafs dominating early, as you’d expect from score effects.
  • [13:51] Sorry for the infrequent updates, but shit is gettin’ wild. The Leafs pull back to 1! Zaitsev takes the puck from Nylander, who gained the zone and did a half-lap. From a bad angle, he shovels it in front, and it banks in off Holtby. It’s 3-2! Hold onto your butts.
  • [13:06] Moore gets the secondary assist, and it’s a brand new game.
  • [11:56] The crowd is super into it right now, but Washington has gotten over the shell-shock and is starting to play. Won’t be easy to get the third.
  • [11:13] Nylander is EVERYWHERE this period. He took that demotion to heart. He does another lap in the offensive zone before starting a cycle and eventually getting a shot from the low circle.
  • [9:13] This effort makes you wonder how the Leafs can look so bad at times. THIS is what the team should be at their best. They’re fast, they’re relentless, and they’re taking it to Washington right now. But we shouldn’t need to get to the point where our backs are against the walls to turn this in.
  • [8:00] It’s incredible that I expect Matthews to score whenever he gets a semi-decent chance. He doesn’t, after a forecheck leads to a shot from him in the low slot.
  • [7:09] McElhinney has to be airtight right now, and he is faced with a knucklepuck from Madison Bowey, as his point shot changes direction mid-flight. He looks awkward, but he saves it.
  • [5:22] Looks like the fourth line isn’t going to play much more. Down to a 3-line game. And as I type that, Matthews and his crew nearly score again. We’re coming close, but haven’t quite gotten there yet.
  • [3:45] It’s kind of nuts that we’re not playing Nylander right now, but we are playing Komarov...
  • [2:42] Gardiner makes a horrific error and Alex Chiasson walks in unmolested on McElhinney. Thankfully, his backhand goes off the bar, and not under it. Leafs still have a prayer.
  • [2:02] The Leafs pull the goalie early, as they usually do. Let’s see if it works.
  • [1:28] Heart-in-mouth time. The Leafs are trying to get everything to the net and capitalize on a rebound or something like that. The Capitals are just aiming for the empty net and accepting the icings that are coming along with it.
  • [0:30] Matthews takes a slapper, but Holtby gets a glimpse of it and grabs it with the glove.
  • [0:09] Fuck. Ovi hat-trick on the empty net. 4-2 Capitals and the fat lady has sung.

Well, that was unfortunate. The Leafs were much better than they were in Carolina, but hockey isn’t fair like that. On to the next one.