For as long as the National Hockey League has existed, coaches and players alike have been critical of surrendering a goal in the last minute of a period. More often than not those goals turn the momentum in favor of the scoring team and take the air out of the club that gave up the late strike. The Capitals completed a rare and undesirable hat trick by allowing three of those last-minute tallies along the way to a humbling 7-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The home team came into the match-up with a host of important players on their injured list. Bruce Boudreau told us earlier in the day that when a team is undermanned due to injuries, they tend to band together and play a strong game. He couldnt have been more correct assessing Toronto.
The Maple Leafs were very impressive in the first period. Their skating speed continually kept the Caps hemmed in their own defensive zone. They outshot Washington 16-8 in the opening frame, and an early 4-on-4 situation resulted in fireworks for both sides.
The oft-injured Tim Connolly was the first to click. He let a snapshot fly from the left-wing circle that zipped past Tomas Vokoun on the blocker side.
The lone bit of good news for the Caps came 51 seconds later when Jason Chimera left a drop-pass to Brooks Laich just as he entered the Leafs end. Chimera drove hard to the net which gave Laich even more room to walk in and blast a shot that ramped up off of defender John-Michael Liles and past goalie Jonas Gustavsson .
The Caps were out-played over the next 16 minutes but were still deadlocked at one until the final minute of the first. Vokoun made a few solid stops as the Leafs turned up the heat and Washington struggled to clear the puck effectively.
The first of those last-minute backbreakers came from rookie winger Matt Frattin. A lot of people who follow the Leafs regularly said it was only a matter of time before this youngster would get his first big-league goal. He was a terrific scorer in college at North Dakota, and by many accounts had been knocking on the door lately. He took a cross-ice pass from AHL call-up Joe Colborne and drilled a snapshot over Vokouns catching glove. It was a pretty goal, no matter what, but for it to be his first made it even nicer for him and a lively Air Canada Center crowd.
Who knows what would have happened if the Caps managed to get out of that first period even? Instead, the second period was pure punishment.
The Leafs bagged three power-play goals in the middle frame, part of a four-goal explosion that pushed them to a huge lead that would never be challenged.
Joffrey Lupul is always good against the Caps when his body allows him to play against them. Caps fans would have wished he was among the wounded for Toronto as he delivered a four-point night for Ron Wilsons club, with a goal and three assists. NHL scoring leader Phil Kessel got on the board with a goal that came as a result of the sweetest passing play on the night. That strike would be the fourth of the evening for Toronto and would end the night for Vokoun.
Michal Neuvirth came on in relief and would not fare any better. He gave up the last three goals for the Maple Leafs, including a last-minute of the third-period shorthanded marker to former Cap David Steckel.
The Caps have lost six of their last seven overall, and the reasons for that lack of success go across the board. Their offensive game is far from clicking right now. Their power play has failed on 22 consecutive chances. Their defense is spending way too much time in its own end and has been guilty of far too many sloppy turnovers, and their goalies bail them out, but not quite enough.
You have to hope that some home-cookin will hit the spot in the week ahead. Washington will host Phoenix, Winnipeg and the New York Rangers during the holiday week and needs to find its top form in a hurry.
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