Me, watching Sunday afternoon hockey (except I use a french press)
A shorthanded Toronto Maple Leafs lineup lost a Sunday afternoon game in Washington, in more ways than one. The Leafs were shorthanded because they’re missing some of their top players due to injuries, illnesses, as well as mysterious disappearances. The Leafs shorthanded group also gave up two powerplay goals to a dangerous Capitals powerplay in Period One, and while the Maple Leafs pressed later in the game, the Capitals were able to hold on for a 4-2 win against Toronto, plus an empty net goal.
Toronto made a game of it. They definitely made more of a game of it than you’d have expected after Washington took an early 3-0 lead in the first. The Leafs are score effects on steroids—when behind, the team opens up and skill shines through, and, what do you know? They’re fun to watch and always seem to come back. When the Leafs take a lead, they clamp back into their shell, allow a billion shots, and teams always seem to find ways to come back on them. This Sunday afternoon game was one-half of the Leafs season in a nutshell, the half where the team is playing from behind.
WARNING: Game recap contains a spider infestation. Please email me recs for your most trusted extermintators.
CSN Washington colour guy Craig Laughlin played 549 games with Montreal, Washington, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has one of the worst voices for a colour guy among all NHL broadcasters and generally doesn’t say many things worth saying. In one bizarre moment in the third period, his telestrator fell to the floor and two arrows sprang up on the screen for a few seconds. The Caps broadcast team is second in the league in making inside jokes that are foreign to viewers, behind only the Toronto team.
Still, Laughlin had a good line right after Troy Brouwer scored the 1-0 goal on a tic-tac-toe 3:34 in, with Jay McClement in the box for hooking:
“You can’t cover execution of the Washington Capitals powerplay.”
Ain’t that the truth. The Capitals powerplay is automatic. Players are brought in to have success in distinct areas of the ice on the Capitals powerplay. Their puck movement is perfect and the only team that can shut it down is the Capitals themselves, if they don’t execute:
Brouwer was wide open in the slot because Nik Kulemin and Tyler Bozak have to cheat up towards the pointmen and take away the potential Mike Green-to-Alexander Ovechkin autogoal. The gamble is that Marcus Johansson doesn’t make a perfect pass to Brouwer, but that isn’t what happened. 1-0.
The Caps got goals from Jason Chimera, and another PPG from Joel Ward (Laughlin didn’t have any other good lines after that. “I call this ‘The Career Line’ because everybody is having a career year”) and took a 3-0 lead just 8:44 into the game. Against most teams, that’s game over, but these are the 2013-2014 Toronto Maple Leafs, and the regular laws of nature don’t apply.
The Leafs were out-shot 13-1 in the first 17 minutes of the game, and the Capitals took 16 unblocked shot attempts to Toronto’s 3. Shots, though, just have a way of going in for the Leafs, and Troy Bodie put them on the board late in the first period after a series of fortunate bounces led to Bodie having the puck on its edge, right in the slot:
In the second, the notable even was Dion Phaneuf’s dipping goal 8:05 in to pull the Leafs back to within one. Toronto actually made a game of it, shots-wise, out-shooting the Capitals 20-6 in the second period. The Caps have had their own puck possession issues and let the Leafs back into the game.
In the third, James Reimer took over, with a couple of big stops late, including flashing the leather on a Mike Green shot with 4:33 to play on a Capitals two-on-one. Moments later, he stopped Jason Chimera on a breakaway (who had somehow managed to skate right through Jake Gardiner) and stopped two shots on the ensuing Capitals powerplay, giving Toronto a chance. The Leafs weren’t able to generate much offence or any real chances after killing off the Gardiner penalty, and Brouwer’s bank shot off the boards found its way into the back of the net for a 4-2 Washington win.
WHY THE LEAFS LOST
Couple of bad penalties early and the Capitals executed. Other than the goals for, the goals had the added effect of keeping the puck away from Toronto’s skill players until the final 50 minutes of the game, and those skilled players didn’t exactly make the most of their chances. Phil Kessel had four shots on net, and no other Leafs forward had more than two.
Through two periods, eight Capitals had a Corsi For % of 60 or better, while nine Leafs were 40% or under. Adam Oates isn’t a real “matchup” coach like Randy Carlyle is, so this isn’t a case of the Leafs being rolled over on by two superior lines.
There’s our ExtraSkater game graph. If only the game existed from the second period-on. You also would have liked to see the Leafs mount more of an attack in the third period late, but they didn’t really press until the late-going in the game.
But puck possession at evens only paints one picture. The Leafs just didn’t have it on the powerplay. They got 8 shots in 6 minutes (good!) but failed to score on any of them (bad!) and were run over by the Capitals PP. The late penalty to Gardiner didn’t help, and really foiled Toronto’s chances at a better comeback.
So, another one of those games that the Leafs were lucky to be in, but then again, probably deserved a better fate than they earned especially after the way it started. Still, they’re 2-2 on this tough road trip, so you can’t really complain about the results.