The Toronto Maple Leafs had the type of game missing from their arsenal the last month or so, outscoring the visiting Washington Capitals 6-3 at Scotiabank Arena Wednesday night.
Nazem Kadri with 3-lights and a helper lead the way with William Nylander chipping in with 3-assists who, along with Connor Brown, were a force all night. They took the spotlight away from the top two units and that couldn’t have come at better time with the Leafs struggling to score and in an overall funk as a team.
The Capitals, losers of seven in a row, looked anything but Stanley Cup champions and were prime for the taking. Alex Ovechkin, despite his 37th (on a goal that should have been stopped), looked like the selfish player he was before last year, taking long shifts, standing around, barely coming in to his own end, ran into his own player in front of the Caps bench and went down like he was shot. Other than taking a cheap run at Morgan Riley late in the third period was a non-factor.
The game remained close because of the Leafs inability to move the puck out of their defensive zone. With whipping boy Jake Gardiner sidelined with back spasms, the defensive liabilities of Nikita Zaitsev are becoming more evident by the shift.
The Caps didn’t mount much of a pushback, and when they did, Frederik Andersen was there to close the door. The Matthews/Marner combo played ok but wasn’t anything special and while both scored one was on the power play (Matthews), the other into an empty net (Marner).
John Tavares had a strong game with at least a half dozen quality scoring chances but just couldn’t find the back of the net. The good news is he’s still getting the chances and playing with a tenacity needed to produce good results.
He even showed a little grit when NHL poster boy for the “Dunce Cap” award Tom Wilson took a couple jabs at Andersen after the whistle with a few minutes to play and Tavares defended his goaltender.
It was a good win for the Leafs who kept it simple and just out worked the sluggish looking Caps.
The Leafs now have a short break before heading to Detroit for one, three at home and a grueling 6-game, 12-day road trip on the horizon.
The key is to fix up the play in their own zone either internally or by trade because that’s the most vulnerable part of their game teams are exploiting and if they want to be a serious threat the last 33-games this will be a must.