The Washington Capitals come into the Scotiabank Arena with a six game losing streak, and a captain who has chosen to sit out a home game after the all star break, rather than an away game before.
The Maple Leafs were paying inconsistently, losing to bottom teams like the Coyotes and Panthers, but defeating the top team Tampa Bay Lightning. The team is finally giving people what they want and tonight will feature Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner paired up together.
The game started rather slow; both teams were feeling each other out, taking time holding the puck behind their nets to set up plays. short passes, no rushes, taking it easy ahead of their five day vacation.
Our first big jump in the game came when Evgeny Kuznetsov got close in on Frederik Andersen and shot from his knee, but Freddie gloved it easily to get a cheer from the crowd. The Leafs take that rebound out of their zone, but the game resumes it’s back and forth pace after that.
Zach Hyman gets a shot off on Brayden Holtby, and leads to a face off in the Capitals zone. The Caps in, and rush into the Leafs end, where they can’t get a goal and Ovechkin gets knocked over. The play moves to the neutral zone where, somehow, TJ Oshie and Alex Ovechkin collide face first into each other. Ovechkin gets pulled off the bench and taken for concussion protocol testing.
The Maple Leafs take over the play after this, spending more time in control, more time in the offensive zone, and some good shots and chances on net. The period continues with more of the same as we’ve seen. Light back and forth hockey, where perhaps the teams are dreaming of beaches and margaritas on Friday.
Devante Smith-Pelley gets a great shot on a rebound with Andersen still down low from the initial shot, but he gets the glove up far enough to tip the puck up into the netting above the glass.
Coming out of the Capitals zone, Patrick Marleu is called for lightly hooking Andre Burakovsky, and just as the Capitals are heading to the power play, Ovechkin is cleared to join his team and gets out there onto the ice.
The Capitals don’t get much of a chance for most of this power play until the dying seconds, where Kuznetsov sits patiently on the puck until Niklas Backstrom is in a position to tip in a cross crease shot - which he does - and the Capitals go up 1-0 at the end of the first period.
However that doesn’t last long. With 24 seconds left to go, Morgan Rielly dumps the puck into the corner of the Capitals zone, gets the puck back to pass it to William Nylander who’s tripped behind the net but gets it out front to Nazem Kadri who scores to tie the game just before the horn goes off.
The second period begins at a faster pace than the first period did, the goals seemed to have energized the players. Shots get traded and the skating is faster, and four minutes into the period Alexander Ovechkin finds himself undefended at the top of the circle, and slaps home Capitals goal number two.
The goal ties Ovechkin with Sergei Federov for most goals by a Russian player in the NHL. Hopefully he doesn’t know his next will put him on top; we don’t need him motivated.
Trevor Moore is motivated tonight, he’s doing everything he can to score and prove he shouldn’t be sent back down to the Marlies.
The Maple Leafs are crowding the net around Holtby, ripping shots and chances all around him, and puck handling around the Capitals. Nothing gets through,not close shots, point shots, or just-tossing-whatever-at-the-net shots.
All that effort pays off when, of all people, Nikita Zaitsev scores on a screened shot from the point to tie it at two each.
The Maple Leafs finally get a power play when Ovechkin gets called for cross checking Kasperi Kapanen. The power play attacks the net hard, with John Tavares almost gets a goal with Holtby prone on the ice, Kadri shoots over the net, and finally Auston Matthews scores from below the face off circle to make it 3-2 Maple Leafs.
The play continues to be fast and all over the Capitals zone until the buzzer sounds to end the period. The Maple Leafs head off the ice with a 3-2 lead, and the energy going their way.
The third period begins as the second did, and Auston Matthews almost scores his second of the game with a clear shot on Holtby, but he can’t score. A minute later, Nazem Kadri would get his second of the evening with a wrist shot from the slot, and it’s 4-2 Maple Leafs.
Morgan Rielly gets a great pass off to William Nylander, but Holtby decides to make a save there, poor Willie. The team is determined to go out to the all star break on a high note.
Ovechkin is playing high up on the blue line, just waiting for stretch passes to get that goal that puts him on top of the Russian scoring list, but it doesn’t work. What does work is Nazem Kadri, who scores his third goal of the game with assists to Nylander and a post:
Mitch Marner gets called on a timbits offside - where everyone on the ice is yelling at the oblivious kid who keeps on playing even though he’s so offside he’s at the net. It’s not an important moment in the game, it’s just funny.
The Capitals try for some offense with easy shots on Andersen, and when the Leafs take the puck back to the Capitals zone Holtby jumps on the puck like it’s a live grenade and prays for a whistle. The Maple Leafs have them scared.
As the game clock ticks down, the Capitals up their rough game and start hitting everyone they can as they pass by. Ovechkin is clearly frustrated but Zaitsev and Kuznetsov are especially chippy at each other.
After a face off in the Leafs end, the Capitals shoot off the face off and the puck is deflected off of Ron Hainsey’s skate and into the net to cut the lead to 5-3 for Toronto.
The Capitals pull their goalie with two and a half minutes left, and get a shot on net that Andersen saves, so the Caps get a face off to his left. Andersen stops an Ovechkin shot and then Tom Wilson and John Tavares get into it - and Tavares puts Wilson down on the ice - after Andersen gives Oshie a poke with his stick for being in his crease.
The Leafs get it out of their end and Zach Hyman almost scores on the empty net, but Ovechkin plays goal - and does it pretty well.
The Caps throw what they can on the net, but the Leafs eventually get it out and Mitch Marner gets the empty net goal to make it 6-3.
The Maple Leafs defeat the reigning Stanley Cup champions 6-3 and stretch the Capitals losing streak to six games, and four of those games they gave up more than five goals.
It was a great night for the Maple Leafs, and they head into the all star break on a high. John Tavares and Auston Matthews will represent the Leafs at the All-Star Game on Friday and Saturday night, and the next Leafs game is February 1st in Detroit - that’s right, the bye week begins after the all star break.