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Caps vs. Leafs Recap: Oh, Schmidt! Caps Rake Leafs 4-1

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The Washington Capitals dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre, riding strong play overall to a convincing victory.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals took it to the playoff-desperate Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, completely squashing the Leafs’ frightening rookies like old pumpkins and riding excellent play from Nate Schmidt and Philipp Grubauer to a victory.

Here's Tuesday night's Plus/Minus:

Plus: Nate Schmidt, back in the lineup for the first time since forever, am I right? shined with the chance he was given. More on him below.

Minus: Grubauer had a shutout going until the final four minutes of the game, but, hey, it’s not like he needs to shine up his name tag for opposing GMs any more.

And now, this...

Ten more notes on the game:

1. With the Toronto Maple Leafs hoping the season hasn’t already turned, turned, turned on their playoff hopes and fighting for their lives, would the unholy rookie triumvirate of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander sink the Capitals’ shot at a second consecutive Presidents Trophy?

2. Backup netminder Philipp Grubauer, Tommy Chalk’s prediction for Vegas’ selection in the upcoming expansion draft, got the start against the Leafs. With the Metropolitan division rival New York Rangers coming to town the very next night on a back-to-back, Holtby got the rest.

3. Much was made earlier in the day about Alex Ovechkin’s comments regarding the NHL’s refusal to allow its players to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Clearly, Ovechkin chose tonight’s game against the Leafs to vent his frustrations. The Captain recorded four hits in the first period alone, including a couple old-school cringe-inducing traintrackings. That’s the way to take your anger over the self-interested motives of your environment and turn that frustration into something constructive and captivating, Ovi! You’re like the Kendrick Lamar of hockey.

4. For just the third time in sixteen games, Trotz-denoted “Seventh Defenseman” Nate Schmidt got the start, with John Carlson out and day-to-day with a lower body injury. (My guess? Super gnarly stubbed toe.) There is likely no player on the Capitals roster more the focal point of debate currently than Nate Schmidt, and with the whole Caps-o-Sphere watching, how would the Golden Retriever-faced blueliner do?

5. The scoring finally got started over thirteen minutes into the first period. With the Capitals executing what Craig Laughlin identified as a “pinwheel cycle,” but what I call a depiction of beauty more pure than Botticelli's Venus, Brett Connolly found Andre Burakovsky, who swirled around like a gorgeous Swedish electron and fed Lars Eller, who ripped home a heartbreaker like pirating Tom Petty records. It was Eller’s 12th goal on the season, and it gave the Caps a 1-0 lead.

6. In the second period, the two exciting clubs traded opportunities like colluding stock brokers. Finally, with the good guys on the power play, Ovechkin and Kevin Shattenkirk sneakily traded places, and Nicklas Backstrom found Shatty, who splashed home a one-timer from in the middle of Ovi’s hunting grounds to make it 2-0 Washington, and finally notch his first goal as a member of the Washington Capitals. The score would hold until the intermission.

7. And in the third period, the Caps looked coldly into the quivering doe eyes of the Leafs and muttered, “more.” Mr. Lightning Rod Nate Schmidt caught a lovely pass from Brett Connolly, and sniped home a top-corner tearjerker that was too hot for TV. It was 3-0 Caps.

8. Then - then, can you believe this? - Tom Wilson snuck through on a breakaway and hit a beautiful forehand-backhand five hole tap dance that gave the Capitals a four goal lead, 4-0!

9. The Leafs would get one back, as rookie Mitch Marner made the Caps pay for a momentary lapse in judgment, induced by four-goal lead apathy. But it wouldn’t make much difference to anyone but Grubauer, and the Capitals left Toronto 4-1 winners.

10. As for the youngsters in this contest, Grubauer was excellent, stopping 27-of-28 for a .964 save percentage. The Leafs’ three-headed hydra was mercifully silent, with Marner notching the only point.

The Capitals’ magic number to secure a second-consecutive Presidents Trophy is now one; that is, a single point from here on out locks it up. Let’s see if they can get it Wednesday night at Verizon against the Rangers.

Game highlights: