|Recap: Capitals at Maple Leafs by: Matt Witting November 6, 2001|
|The early season slump continued for Washington as they lost to Toronto on Tuesday night despite playing some decent hockey. Missing Jagr and Oates, the Caps fell behind early, came back, then gave up two late goals to drop their fourth game out of the last five. The good news is that Washington now gets to go home for three games and the 6 of the next 7 and 8 of the next 11 are at the Phone Booth.
The game started out poorly for the Caps as the Leafs turned on the pressure early and often. Kolzig was on his toes in net, stopping four breakaways in the first alone including two by All-Star Mats Sundin. The defense, however, was it’s usual porous self allowing Toronto 16 shots in the frame (to a mere 6 for the Caps), and the Leafs capitalized twice. The first goal was a Dmitri Yuskevich slap shot on the power play with Kolzig screened, one of three first period penalties on the Caps. The second happened when the Caps turned over the puck in their own zone allowing Tie Domi to go in on a very short breakaway. Olie went post to post in the splits to stop the shot, but the puck somehow skidded out from underneath him and sat in the crease. Valk skated up, unencumbered by the Caps, and tapped it in for a 2-0 lead 7:09 into the first and only 12 seconds after the Yuskevich goal. Olie Kolzig, furious at being let down again by his “D”, reverted to his old self and shattered his stick against the ice while yelling at his team mates. Washington tightened up a little defensively after that, but couldn’t generate any offensive bursts to threaten CuJo at the other end.
The second period was the exact opposite of the first. The Capitals came out flying and ended up sending 19 pucks on net while holding the Leafs to 9. The Bondra/Zubrus/Nikolishin line dominated the Toronto defense, cycling the puck and generating a ton of chances from all directions. That line ended up generating 17 shots among them (7/5/5 respectively) out of the Capitals total of 38 for the game. Washington finally got on the board at 7:25 of the second on the power play. Zubrus fed Niko along the boards and he dropped it back to Gonchar at the blue line. Sergei took two strides and fired a rising shot over CuJo’s shoulder and into the top of the net to cut the lead to 2-1. Gonchar hadn’t scored in the last 11 games, so it must have felt good for him to break through at last. 90 seconds later Washington tied it up. Zubrus, along the low boards to Joseph’s left, fed the puck over to Nikolishin again and headed for the net. Nikolishin passed it across to Bondra in the high slot and Bonzai charged up, fired a nasty wrister from 20 feet and beat CuJo through a great screen thrown by Zubrus for the first Washington 5-5 goal in five games. Later on in the period the Caps were shorthanded, but managed to chip a loose puck to center ice where Sacco scooped it up and ran off to the races. He was in the clear but was dragged down by Toronto and was awarded a penalty shot. Joe Sacco, who scored on his last penalty shot (against Arturs Irbe last year in Carolina) deked to his back hand but was unable to lift the puck over the sprawling goaltender who barely deflected it aside. Despite a number of great chances the second period closed 2-2.
The third frame looked more like West Coast hockey as the teams traded odd-man breaks and engaged in a great up and down battle. The Caps had the edge in shots and chances, but were unable to get another puck behind CuJo. Toronto got the game winner from Hoglund (his third GWG of the season) at 12:35 when Olie stopped another up close chance by Renberg, but Hoglund was able to slide the rebound between Olie’s skate and the left post. With under two minutes to play the Caps were preparing to pull Kolzig for an extra attacker when they gave up a two on one break to the Leafs. Corson fed Renberg who managed to skitter the puck through 5-hole for the back-breaker.
Overall the Capitals looked pretty good in the last two periods, but the less said about the first the better. The PK looked competent against Toronto’s horrible power play, while the PP got a goal and generated a bunch of chances. The defense was a little better than it has been, but still had a lot of trouble with defensive/neutral zone turnovers and clearing rebounds. Cote actually may have been the best defender out there. #3 laid a number of good hit out, didn’t commit a penalty, and broke up two different two on ones. On offense Bondra was the star, and his line was dominating for long stretches of the game. Dahlen and Halpern were invisible, but the young guys (Corrinet especially) generated a couple of chances. It was a disappointing loss to one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, but there were some signs of improvement.
Next Game: Thursday at MCI against the Carolina Hurricanes