2016 NHL number one overall draft pick, Auston Matthews, and his Toronto Maple Leafs steamed into the District on Tuesday night carrying a five game winning streak. The Leafs, who are eerily reminiscent of the 2006-07 Capitals, can really put the puck in the net, and they did.
Coach Mike Babcock’s team took advantage of several Washington mistakes and penalties, including a shaky call or two from the zebras, plus some missed calls on the Leafs, to race to a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes. Matthews was brilliant with his play, especially his second assist of the night that really put the Caps behind the eight ball.
Remember though, that I mentioned that this Leafs club is like the 06-07 Caps? So that means they are weak on the blue line and have issues in their own zone. That proved to be the case on Tuesday night.
Washington, once they stopped being ushered to the sin bin, finally stabilized things and rallied to tie the game with two quick goals early in period three, which forced Babcock to use his timeout to settle his young squad. Tom Wilson then took a bad hooking penalty, but the Caps PK unit, which was uncharacteristically dented for two goals in six shorthanded situations on the night, killed this one off.
However, Matt Niskanen missed a takeaway in the neutral zone, then Mitch Marner got by Lars Eller to score on Philipp Grubauer on a breakaway with 8:52 remaining and the Leafs looked poised for their sixth straight victory.
But the Caps circled the wagons and stormed the net like crazy and finally tied it on John Carlson’s goal from the paint with 6:05 remaining after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 3 assists) set it all up with a behind the back pass after an initial breakaway. Justin Wiliams (1 goal, 2 assists) and Marcus Johansson (2 assists) were crashing the net, as well. In the last three games the Capitals have now scored 14 goals, and almost all of them have been due to net presence, which has been a point of emphasis since the 44 shot, one goal shootout loss to New Jersey last Thursday.
After the referees let some more clear infractions on the Leafs go, Matthews nearly won the game late on a dandy of a backhander that somehow hit Grubauer in the head and went over the net. What a player this kid from Arizona is now and will be in the future, wow!
Off to overtime the game went and Kuznetsov carried the puck in the offensive zone then took it around the net and passed to Carlson at the top of the right wing circle along the boards. The puck was tipped en route so #74 had to make a great play to keep it in, otherwise the Leafs are off to the races. The 2010 Team USA World Juniors hero then made a super cross ice pass to the Gr8, Alex Ovechkin, and he made no mistake about burying it for his 18th goal of the season to give the Capitals a wild 6-5 victory.
What a hockey game. It was a crazy one and the Caps turned in one of their worst defensive first periods all season. They only gave up eight shots, but too many were of the high quality variety and the Capitals defenders were too intent on trying to go to the ice to block shots when they have an all world goalie behind them in Braden Holtby. This made things difficult for the Holtbeast and he didn’t have his best stuff either, so Coach Barry Trotz pulled him after 20 minutes. I put the yanking mostly on the shoddy play by Washington in their own end, though. That needs to be cleaned up before Thursday’s big game against Columbus, but we’ll get to that one in a few paragraphs.
Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 1 assist) was fantastic in this game on the blue line and as Alan May mentioned on Comcast in the post game, he is at his best when he’s in the offensive zone and going forward. His rocket tied the game at four and his first period power play blast hit Williams on the way in to give the Caps an initial early lead in this contest, one that they would not regain until Ovi buried the game winner.
As for the penalties, the Caps took too many, yet the Leafs were doing several similar things, but referees Chris Lee and Chris Schlenker chose not to call it evenly. Particularly bad was a sequence when Nazem Kadri cross checked Ovechkin hard and then Ovi roughed #43 back. While that was going on Leafs defensemen Jake Gardiner punched the Gr8 in the back of the head. It was a cheap shot, but somehow he avoided jail time and Ovechkin received a double minor for roughing. Ridiculous! Over the last the three games the Capitals have now been shorthanded 19 times and have received just seven power plays, that’s ludicrous! Where’s Oliver Stone when you really need him?
Overall, this was a big comeback win for the Caps because they haven’t really had a game where they were able to go all out offensively to rally. They were fortunate that this young Leafs team is fairly clueless too often in their own zone, but give President Mike Shanahan and GM Lou Lamoriello time to get some defensemen and this Toronto team could be a contender in a few years.
The victory is the Capitals third straight and they improve to 23-9-5 (51 points). They are in fourth place in the Metropolitan division; however, they are just two points behind the Rangers and have three games in hand. In first place though, are those Blue Jackets who have now won 16 games in a row! They are 27-5-4 and are one win away from tying the NHL record for victories in succession, which was set by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93.
Next up for Columbus are the Caps at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Blue Jackets defeated Washington in both games earlier this season, once in overtime and the other time on a zebra aided late power play goal at the Verizon Center on November 20th. So Coach Trotz’ crew should be very motivated to stop this streak by John Tortorella’s squad.
The Blue Jackets have a bunch of guys having career years and they are very physical and structured. Nick Foligno is a notorious Cap killer and he scored his 13th goal of the season in a 3-1 CBus win over Edmonton on Tuesday night. They don’t have the pure skill of the Leafs, but they are extremely hard on the puck and are getting great play from their blue line as well as their goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. Washington will have to be much better in all phases of the game if they want to defeat a Columbus team that has all of the confidence in the world right now. This will be a good test for the Caps, who are doing a much better job at going to the net and creating havoc for opposing goalies over the last three tilts. They’ll need to do a lot of that to get the puck by Bob.
Notes: The Caps won the faceoff battle, 36-28. Jay Beagle was 9-5…T.J. Oshie scored his 12th goal of the season and continues to bring his A game each night. Pay the man!…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:59…Andre Burakovsky had no points, but he played hard on the puck and it was his net presence that allowed Orlov to tie the game at four early in period three.