The Caps entered Toronto on the second leg of a back-to-back and the Maple Leafs certainly looked like the fresher team, jumping on the Caps early on their way to a 4-2 win on Saturday night.
How it happened: Toronto opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game as Matt Martin beat Braden Holtby on the first shot he faced. Martin snuck in behind the defense and Mitch Marner found him right on the tape with a pass to spring the breakaway. The Leafs added to their lead in the second period as James Van Riemsdyk struck on the power play. Van Riemsdyk and Nikita Soshnikov collapsed down low on the crease and had all the time in the world to work with as John Carlson went down too early to block the shot. Van Riemsdyk was finally able to chip it past Holtby.
The coffin nail came just 22 seconds in the third. Connor Brown pickpocketed Dmitry Orlov in the defensive zone and fed Zach Hyman in the slot. Holtby made the initial save and another to deny Matt Hunwick, but Auston Matthews finally finished off the play with the rebound goal. Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson finally got the Caps on the board in the third period, but a goal by Nazem Kadri and a strong effort from goalie Frederik Andersen were enough to put the game away.
What it means: The loss drops the Caps to 5-2-1 this season in back-to-back games and snaps a five-game win streak for the Caps over the Leafs that stretched back to January of 2015. Washington is now 4-2-0 against Canadian teams this season and 4-1-0 against the Atlantic Division.
Heads up: Head coach Barry Trotz showed that he may be the toughest head coach in the NHL as he took a puck to the head in the very first shift of the game. Off the opening face off, Nikita Soshnikov redirected a puck into the Caps bench, hitting Trotz. You can watch the play here.
Slow start: The Caps have dramatically improved their starts this season, but that was not evident on Saturday. Martin’s goal came just 2:35 into the game. The Caps had scored first in 17 of 20 games heading into Saturday’s contest including their last eight. The best thing you could say about the first period is that the Caps trailed only 1-0, considering they were outshot 15-6 and took three penalties.
Powerless: Despite the rough start for the Caps, they still found themselves trailing only 2-0 midway through the second period with a golden opportunity to get right back into the game. After taking the first four penalties of the game, the Caps had three power plays in the second period including 24 seconds of a two-man advantage. Despite generating eight shots on goal, the Caps walked away empty handed as the Leafs were able to keep the score at 2-0 through 40 minutes. The Caps finished 0 for 4 for the game.
Third period struggles continue: The Caps have identified the third period to be a problem of late. In their last three games, the Caps allowed five goals. It cost them against Columbus and nearly cost them against St. Louis. Heading into the third period Saturday, the Caps trailed 2-0 and needed a strong showing in the final frame. It took Toronto just 22 seconds to score and essentially end any hope the Caps had of getting back into the game. Finishing strong is something this team desperately needs to work on.
Uh-oh: Matt Niskanen took a shift in the opening minute of the third period. That proved to be his last shift of the game. The defenseman went to the locker room and did not return to the bench. According to the team, he suffered a lower-body injury and would be re-evaluated Sunday.
Look ahead: The Caps will get a few days off before hosting the New York Islanders on Thursday. They then head to Tampa for their first meeting with the Lightning this season.
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