After two shaky games, Toronto went on the road and picked up their fourth win on the season away from the Air Canada Centre, playing their game against a weak opponent, capitalizing on their early chances and getting out of Washington with a 3-2 win.
There was a time, perhaps, when the Verizon Center was a tougher place to play. That’s no longer the case. The Washington Capitals appear to have squandered the talent they had that had them as a contender each season, but other than Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro this evening, the forwards looked disinterested, the forwards looked sloppy, and Michal Neuvirth allowed a brutal goal to Korbinian Holzer that stood up as the game winner. Analysis below.
-Scoring chances in this game, as they did the first time Toronto played Washington, heavily favoured the Maple Leafs. They had a 14-10 overall advantage and 13-6 at even strength. The good early start means that Toronto are a single scoring chance away from taking as many as they’ve taken with the score tied, meaning that, *gasp* they’re close to being a 50% puck-possession team.
-It’s worth noting, though, that the Leafs play well against bad opponents and bad against good opponents. In five of their games, they’ve out-chanced their opponent in score-close situations: Montreal, Washington x2, the New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes. They’ve been out-chanced five times by the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres x2 and the Boston Bruins. Something to look for, I guess…
-Phil Kessel is again goalless, again getting chances. We don’t need to repeat this charade. In one rush in the third period, Kessel took the puck down his off wing with James van Riemsdyk and snapped a shot from just below the faceoff dot and it was snared by Michal Neuvirth. The CSN Washington crew were lauding Kessel’s speed and shot all night. He took some perimeter opportunities, but also led all Leafs not named van Riemsdyk in inside shots. He did, however, like all Leafs, look bad on the powerplay.
-That powerplay is brutal and predictable. Killers know that the Leafs don’t even try to work it inside, so they send their men tight to cover the points, driving back Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and Mike Kostka. Midway through the game, Randy Carlyle put John-Michael Liles on that first unit but I don’t think it did anything. The Leafs have a lot of good PP weapons that they refuse to use, including Phaneuf’s shot, Clarke MacArthur and van Riemsdyk’s ability to work the net and Kessel’s ability to work the offensive zone and move defenders.
-How good was van Riemsdyk in the first period? He jumped on the early turnover from Neuvirth to Tom Poti, and tucked home his second on a broken play by the Leafs that ended in a fanned shot by Cody Franson. He now has six on the year to lead the team, all for the cost of the teams’ seventh defenceman!
-Hey, look, it’s Korbinian Holzer’s first NHL goal!
-Speaking of the Leafs defence… I thought that even without Carl Gunnarsson, they looked pretty good. You’ll note that for the second straight game, Cody Franson and Mark Fraser have the Leafs’ D highest scoring chance differential. This is more likely due to easy minutes than it is to all-star calibre play on the part of Franson and Fraser. Korbianian Holzer didn’t make any wild mistakes tonight (and scored the winning goal!), and Dion Phaneuf was the big minutes guy we expect. Mike Kostka only got to 25:08, for that we ought to be thankful although generally, that first pairing did a good job shutting down Ovechkin at even strength.
-Nick Backstrom’s second line was the only one that really stayed together for the Caps’, otherwise Adam Oates did a lot of tinkering. Backstrom played much of the game with Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera, and not particularly well. I have that line losing the chances battle to the Leafs’ second line with Mikhail Grabovski, which was the primary matchup.
-Grabovski did the yeoman’s work again tonight, winning 5/9 defensive zone faceoffs and 12/20 overall. He went primarily against Backstrom, who Oates was using as his top offensive zone unit. Randy Carlyle balanced out the lines, moving Jay McClement back up with Grabovski and Nik Kulemin and Leo Komarov down to the fourth.
-I thought that made the fourth line a bit better, and Dave Steckel with Komarov and Kulemin were actually out for the Leafs late in the contest. He still didn’t send both Steckel and McClement onto the ice for the faceoff with :38 seconds left, and Leo Komarov would have had to take the defensive zone draw had Steckel been waved out of the draw. Eventually, Carlyle may put those two together and reunite MGK.
-The third line was notably absent tonight, with Nazem Kadri playing just 8:43 and the line having just two scoring chances to show for it and no tough defensive assignments. Even with MacArthur, which I found pretty surprising, they only found themselves out against Washington’s big boys at Oates’ behest. Carlyle kept them away from high minutes. This may have been Matt Frattin’s weakest game of the season, with a single shot on goal in 15 shifts.
-Ben Scrivens didn’t have to be excellent, but he was very good in a one-goal game, making a couple of good stops late in the game, albeit the Leafs didn’t give up any chances after the 8:40 mark of the third period. He stopped all 21 shots he faced at even strength. Neuvirth looked shaky for the Caps, allowing 3 goals on 17 even strength shots, making a brutal giveaway to one goal and Korbinian Holzer’s first career goal is one Neuvirth would love to have back.
-Although I guess every goalie would love to have every goal back. Here are the scoring chance differentials by player, at 5-on-5 only:
|Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|James van Riemsdyk||5||2||3|
|Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
-And the team breakdown:
|Toronto (EV)||3 (3)||7 (6)||4 (4)||14 (13)|
|Washington (EV)||5 (2)||2 (2)||3 (2)||10 (6)|
Leafs Nation Three Stars:
- James van Riemsdyk
- Mikhail Grabovski
- Troy Brouwer