Future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin is often the most dominant player in any rink on which he plays. But on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre, the Capitals’ star forward was effectively shut down.
The Maple Leafs strolled to a 4-2 victory in a score that flattered the visitors. If not for the sensational goaltending of 2016 Vezina Trophy nominee Braden Holtby, not to mention a few bounces off the goal posts, the game would have been more lopsided.
Toronto was opportunistic in exploiting Washington’s defence, using its speed and pinpoint stretch passes to convert on a pair of breakaways. In the Leafs’ end of the rink, Frederik Andersen held the fort effectively, preserving a shutout until just past the midway mark of the third period.
Ovechkin, who entered the game with 57 points in 39 career games against the Leafs, was held to a single assist.
Winger Matt Martin opened the scoring 2:35 into the game, receiving a terrific breakout pass from Mitch Marner and getting the better of Holtby on a breakaway. It was the only goal of the opening period, although Nikita Soshnikov missed on a pair of good scoring chances. Soshnikov was placed on a makeshift line with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov.
The line shuffle was necessitated by the absence of William Nylander, who missed the game with an upper body injury.
Peter Holland took Nylander’s place in the lineup, and made his presence felt by drawing a penalty on a breakaway of his own in the second period. On the ensuing man advantage, James van Riemsdyk found a loose puck at the edge of the crease and jammed home the rebound to increase the lead by two.
Holtby, meanwhile, was hung out to dry for much of the game. The trend continued off the faceoff to start the third period. With the Leafs pressing and Holtby forced to make a series of saves, a rebound came to Auston Matthews. The much-heralded rookie fired the puck past a helpless netminder for his third goal in the past two games.
Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom broke the shutout bid at 9:30 of the third period.
The Leafs responded when Nazem Kadri went in alone on, you guessed it, another breakaway and restored his team’s three-goal lead.
Marcus Johansson of the Capitals rounded out the scoring.
For van Riemsdyk, Matthews and Kadri, each scored their ninth goal of the season, maintaining a three-way logjam for the team lead in that category.
The Leafs were perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, including a 24-second 5-on-3 situation in the second period.
“I would have liked to have not been in the box so much but our penalty kill was outstanding. Our power play was good as well,” coach Mike Babcock said.
Marner finished the game with a pair of assists – both in the first period – to give him 16 points on the season, one behind van Riemsdyk’s team-leading total.
“He’s been good. His hockey sense, his vision, his poise with the puck,” van Riemsdyk said of his linemate Marner. “When you see him start wheeling in the zone with that and going for a full lap, you know it’s a confident player. I think all three of our games complement each other pretty well so it’s been fun playing with those guys out there.”
The Leafs have Sunday off before preparing for a three-game western Canada road trip.