Capitals lose to Toronto despite third period lead
Back on Monday, the Caps left Washington fresh from knocking off Buffalo. They set off for Canada with the intention of getting themselves on a win streak. For long spells in each game, they played well enough to win both outings in Ottawa and Toronto. Sadly, they’ll come back to D.C. with no points to show for their efforts, having dropped both decisions in an eerily similar way.
The Maple Leafs were winless in their own barn over the first couple weeks of the season. They entered play Thursday on a high note after celebrating an overtime victory two days prior in Buffalo.
James Reimer and Michal Neuvirth received the starting nod in goal. For Neuvirth, it was the fifth straight time that Head Coach Adam Oates tabbed him to take the crease.
The Capitals would give Michal an early lead to protect. Mike Ribeiro made a clever spin move along the backboards to avoid Leaf winger Matt Frattin. With Frattin grasping at air, the Caps pivot found Joel Ward unattended across the goalmouth. Ward, the Toronto native playing in front of close to 30 friends and family, wasted no time depositing his team-leading 4th goal of the year into an open corner of the cage.
The next eight minutes of the game were not so friendly for the Caps. One thing we have noticed from most of the NHL officiating in January is that they have almost zero tolerance for the slightest of fouls in the opening period of play.
The Leafs received a combined five power plays in the first 11 minutes of the contest. Skating with a 5-on-4 advantage, former Philadelphia Flyer James Van Riemsdyk would jam in a loose rebound to tie the score at 6:19 of the frame.
Neuvirth was very strong all night between the pipes, but he saved his best work for early in the game and in the final 10 minutes.
Washington would take advantage of its own power-play in period two before the frame was three minutes old. Ribeiro would again be the man who helped orchestrate the strike. He made a look-away pass through the seam in the Toronto penalty-killing alignment which landed square on the stick of Alex Ovechkin, who rarely misses inside Air Canada Center. Ovechkin ripped an old-fashioned wrister past Reimer to put the Caps on top 2-1.
It was the exact same lead they carried into the third period in Ottawa, and it would unfortunately meet with the exact same result.
The Caps went almost 9 minutes into the third period without a shot against Reimer. And while their offensive game ran dry, the Maple Leafs were just hitting their stride.
Nikolai Kulemin launched himself into the crease to tap home a loose rebound at 7:40 of the third.
Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin were dangerous on two consecutive shifts, as the momentum completely turned. It would be Frattin who finished around the net less than three minutes after Kulemin tied the score. The same Matt Frattin who provided the winner in Buffalo late in overtime Tuesday.
Neuvirth was marvelous down the stretch to keep it a one-goal game. He robbed Phil Kessel with a great glove save, before stuffing Van Riemsdyk on a breakaway.
The Caps had one last chance to tie in the game’s final 10 seconds, and they had the right man for the job. Ribeiro left a touch pass to Ovechkin coming down the left-wing boards. The captain’s shot had Reimer cleanly beaten on the glove side but missed the net wide as the final horn sounded.
There’s little time to rest as the Caps are right back at it against Philadelphia Friday at Verizon.