In a game that had minimal style points, the Washington Capitals managed to play well in a few bursts and that was enough to defeat a rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs team that is all in for the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. Matt Niskanen scored the game winner with the man advantage at 10:29 of the third period on a play very similar to T.J. Oshie’s game winning goal against the Penguins on Tuesday night. This time, however, the puck didn’t hit #77 or Marcus Johansson on the way in, but they provided excellent screens.
Leafs President Brendan Shanahan and General Manager Lou Lamoriello were clearly playing to increase their odds of winning the lottery by sending many of their top players away before the NHL trade deadline. Coach Mike Babcock’s lineup, however, which included a cast of young players as well as Brooks Laich in his first game back since Sunday’s trade, was auditioning for future roles and they played hard the entire game.
Anyone who has ever played hockey knows it is a game of emotion and you can’t just show up and win. Washington tried that route, for most of the contest on Wednesday, while the Toronto youngsters and castoffs played their rears off. They were all over the Caps, who looked disinterested after Tuesday’s exciting victory over the despised Penguins. As a result, the Leafs erased a 2-0 Caps lead and tied this one up in the final frame before Niskanen won it.
Credit Babcock’s crew for not quitting and trying to make up what they clearly lack in talent, with effort.
For Washington, they started slow thanks to two delay of game penalties and another for cross checking in the opening frame before rattling off two goals in 28 seconds in the 19th minute. T.J. Oshie made the key takeaways on both goals. Taylor Chorney, whose wife gave birth to baby boy Turner on Monday, scored his 1st goal of the season on a nice drop pass from #77 to make it 1-0. Then with 1:17 to go in the period, Oshie forced Nazem Kadri into a turnover and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) provided the only style points of the game with as sweet of an aerial backhand saucer pass that you’ll ever see to Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 promptly deposited the puck into the net behind Jonathan Bernier (20 saves) for his NHL leading 41st goal of the season.
At that point it was 2-0 and with Washington receiving a late first period power play, you’d think this one was headed for a rout, right?
Not so fast. The Caps decided to take an overextended nap into period two and the Leafs scored at 1:37, which was just after the Capitals power play didn’t put this one away. From there Toronto played hard, winning loose puck after loose puck until they finally tied things up at 8:16 into the final frame.
The Leafs, however, are bad for a reason and Nikita Soshnikov took a terrible boarding penalty on Karl Alzner and the Caps vaunted power play made them pay for the stupid play.
Following the goal, the Capitals had several good shifts and had multiple chances to put this one away, including a Justin Williams chance in tight on Bernier. They failed to do so and a late Toronto push just came up short as Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) kept the puck out of the cage.
Washington was literally saved by the bell with the lackadaisical effort. Barry Trotz probably wished Mr. Richard Belding had been the bench boss, because he certainly was forced to try and coach a cast of players that looked like they wanted to be anywhere but the hockey rink on Wednesday night.
Fortunately, Oshie (three assists) and Niskanen played the hero roles of Zack Morris and AC Slater on this evening to get the Caps the 3-2 win and save a team that wants to win a Stanley Cup from the possibility of embarrassment in what could have been a loss to the worst team in the league.
In the end, a win is a win is a win. It was totally ugly, but the Capitals earned two points and their record of 47-12-4 (98 points) is as pretty as Kelly Kapowski (aka, Tiffany Amber-Thiesen) was on Saved by the Bell.
In summary, Wednesday’s game was not pretty and the Capitals were fortunate to win. It’s hard to evaluate any individual performance when the team is this collectively bad due to lack of motivation, so we won’t go there, except for praising Oshie, who does so many little things to help this Caps club continue to succeed.
Notes: The Caps were really good from the dot going 36-22. Backstrom was a monstrous 15-3 while Kadri was 3-16…Washington was 1-4 on the power play while the Leafs were 0-4, that was ultimately the difference in the game…Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits…the Capitals next game is Friday night at the Verizon Center against the New York Rangers. I’d imagine they will be motivated for that one?