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Capitals vs. Leafs Recap: Caps Fall to the Leafs, 6-2

A slow start ends in a lopsided finish as the Caps fall to Toronto 6-2.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

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After putting together one of their strongest outings of the season Friday night against the Islanders, the Caps headed north looking to build on it against the Leafs.  Unfortunately the only thing building up tonight was frustration, as the Caps fell behind the eight ball early and were never really able to generate much in the way of momentum - and despite not playing all that badly, fell to the Leafs in a lopsided affair.

Ten more notes on the game:

  • Justin Peters actually made some good saves early on, although he wasn't tested all that much to start the first period. When the Leafs did break through with the game's first goal, it was the result of a funny bounce off of Nate Schmidt in front of the net, one that he couldn't do much about. That's not exactly the case with the Leafs' second goal of the opening frame, a groundball through his legs that just should not go through. Still, it was a bit of a surprise to see Barry Trotz pull Peters after the first period in favor of...
  • ...Braden Holtby, who took over to start the second. Now, giving the starter the hook so early in the game is sometimes a sign that the goalie is having an off night, and other times it's a coach's tactic to light a fire under his team. This seemed to be the latter... and yet it failed to do much, because no sooner had Holtby stepped into the crease than his team hung him out to dry on a tic-tac-toe play to put the Leafs up by three very early in the second.
  • Three goals is a big deficit, but maybe not against this Leafs team - so when Troy Brouwer finally got the Caps on the board with a rifle of a power-play goal midway through the second, it seemed that they could maybe make it a game. All they needed to do was build on that momentum and maybe get another goal, right? Plenty of time... right?
  • Wrong. The Caps have been so much better at not giving up goals within two minutes of scoring one of their own this year - an area of much-needed improvement over last year, where they were doing exactly that every few games. The last two games, however, they've fallen back into old habits, giving up a quick-response goal to the Islanders last night and following it up with an absolute momentum-killer just 23 seconds after Brouwer's power-play tally. Probably one Holtby should have had, too, especially at that particular point in the game.
  • The Caps and Leafs have both made improvements in puck possession and shot suppression since last season (although granted, it was a pretty low bar for both). So it's not all that surprising that the margin was slim when it came to even-strength shot attempts, with the Caps only attempting eight more than the Leafs five-on-five. That said, they did dominate in shots and shot attempts overall, firing 37 shots on Jonathan Bernier and out-attempting them 70 to 52. Some of that, obviously, is score effects, with the Caps trailing from a little over halfway through the first period... but still.
  • Speaking of possession, the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson was dominant at five-a-side, with all three putting up a Corsi% of over 64% (and Backstrom and Ovechkin topping 70%). Not a bad night for that trio, on an otherwise horrible night overall, and nice job by Tom Wilson for getting a bit of a softy for his second goal of the season.
  • Ovechkin's career totals against the Leafs are among the highest of any team in the League, with 27 goals and 49 points in just 33 games versus Toronto coming into tonight. So it's not often that Ovechkin makes the trek to Toronto and doesn't get at least a point, especially when his line does cash in with a goal on the night - but that was the case tonight, with the captain firing a whopping 14 shots on or towards the net and coming up empty.
  • When it comes to special teams, the goal in general is to be able to combine your power-play and penalty-kill effectiveness and be at or over 100%. Not exactly what happened for the Caps tonight, who did pick up a power-play goal on three opportunities tonight (just the fourth road game this year where they've drawn at least three penalties), but ceded three power-play goals on four chances to the Leafs - the first time all year that they've given up more than two in a single game. More disappointing is that after going six straight games without giving up a power-play goal against, they've now given up five in the last three games.
  • The Caps have now played five sets of back-to-back games... and have won just once on the second half, an overtime win over Carolina. That's less than good.
  • Trippy note courtesy of Craig Laughlin: the Leafs scored with 23 seconds remaining in the first period, 23 seconds into the second, 23 seconds after the Caps' first tally and finished the night with 23 shots on goal. That on its own would be strange. It's stranger still coming on a night when the Leafs paid tribute to the late Pat Quinn prior to the game... who in his playing days wore #23 for the Leafs. Spooky.

In the end, this one came down to a lot of little things - a slow start, a few bad bounces, some poor penalty-killing and one or two goalie mistakes, all of which can be overcome on their own but that add up to big things. And in this case, the result was a big deficit and a big loss for a team that was one night removed from seemingly putting all of those little things together.

Game highlights: