An 18-wheeler about to roll off a cliff needs braking time, if disaster is to be averted.
So a 6-2 loss by the Maple Leafs on Wednesday in the team’s first game under interim coach Peter Horachek might come as a disappointment to those expecting immediate results.
For the less delusional, there were some positives to take away from the game in which the score was more lopsided than Toronto deserved. The home team kept the Capitals to just 26 shots on goal, a marked improvement from their habitual nature of surrendering 40 or more pucks against their goalies, particularly on their most recent road trip.
The Leafs also managed to keep Alex Ovechkin off the scoresheet for 59 minutes. A perennial Leaf killer, Ovechkin entered the game with 49 points in 34 career outings versus Toronto, but managed to score ‘only’ an empty net goal.
Nevertheless a loss is still a loss. While the gamesheet might not be reflective of a true 4-goal defeat, the Leafs didn’t do themselves any favours in trying to earn at least a point in the standings. A first period shift in which Dion Phaneuf, James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel each turned over the puck may have been the inspiration for the sarcastic hashtag #FireHoracek.
Tied at 1-1 in the middle frame, the game turned on a Washington shorthanded goal. It was aided by a pair of bad Leaf plays – a sloppy line change by Morgan Rielly, and a lethargic effort by David Clarkson on the backcheck as the puck moved into the Toronto zone. Eric Fehr was the eventual beneficiary with his first of two goals on the night.
The Leafs got a bad break when Brooks Laich scored off a faceoff on a goal that deflected off Toronto defenceman Cody Franson. When it seemed that Trevor Smith gave his team some life with a tally to get within 3-2, the Capitals responded just 42 seconds later to restore the lead.
“There were some good things. We out-chanced them,” said Horachek after the game. “Our possession numbers were better. We outshot them, but we gave up some poor, (untimely) goals. The shorthanded goal was bad but the fourth goal was a real breaker. Right after we scored that goal, we might have had some momentum back on our side. If you take away those two goals, then it’s 2-2 and we’re right in the game.”
Daniel Winnik was the other Leaf to score, potting his second goal of the season.
“It’s frustrating. I thought we did a great job defensively to limit a team like that to 25 shots when they had some powerplays. I think we gave them some goals and that’s what put us down,” Winnik said.
A complete 180-degree turnaround of the team wasn’t going to happen overnight.
But minimizing shots against will certainly work in their favour.
Welcome to your new post, Mr. Horachek.