After a few late goals in Tuesday’s loss against the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs look to keep their offense consistent, and who better to take notes from than the high flying Washington Capitals.
Sidelined 4-6 weeks with a deep laceration to his leg, the Maple Leafs took to the ice without Captain Dion Phaneuf. Coming out with a steady pace and containing the flurry of chances certain to come the other way, the Leafs took the early lead on a nifty play by Nikolai Kulemin.
Scoring the much needed first goal was as valuable to the Leafs as the Alex Ovechkin stick which made it’s way over the glass and into a fan’s hands. When scoring first the Leafs held a record of 4-0 and looked to build some confidence with the first period tally.
Strong defensive play and some spectacular goaltending from Jonas Gustavsson would not prevent the inevitable Capital’s outburst, lead by Mike Green’s tying goal on the power play in the second period. Taking advantage of a few sloppy plays, the Capitals quickly took a 3-1 lead during the second period, seemingly squeezing the life out of the Maple Leafs performance.
Although two points seemed out of the question, the Maple Leafs continued their never say die mentality and converted their efforts into a trio of unanswered goals by Tomas Kaberle, Kris Versteeg, and what would have been the game winner off the stick of Tyler Bozak had Alex Semin not tied it up on the power play late in the third period, sending the game to overtime.
With a capital “A” for effort already on the board, it was the “W” the Leafs were after and looked to do so in a shootout. With the Maple Leaf shooters unable to respond it was Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin who sealed the victory for the Capitals.
Whether the Maple Leafs had solved their offensive absence remained the question throughout the game, however the answer was clear as Ron Wilson juggled his lines once again centering around the play of Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg.
“It took rattling (Bozak’s) cage a little bit because he hasn’t been as sharp since he took a shot in the ear (at practice two weeks ago) and Versteeg moved the puck a little quicker tonight,” said coach Ron Wilson.
Unhappy with the result, but certainly relieved to have climbed out of his goal scoring slump, Kris Versteeg spoke of the teams need to keep the character and emotion up-tempo surrounding the loss of Captain Dion Phaneuf.
“We talked about being more vocal and other guys learning to go out of their role and do things they’re not used to,” Versteeg said. “If that’s talking before a game or on the bench, trying to get guys going, that’s what we have to do. Dion’s a huge loss and it was time for guys to step up.”
In Phaneuf, the Leafs lose not only their vocal and emotional leader, but a significant chunk of minutes the defenseman eats up on a game to game basis had to be filled by others such as Mike Komisarek, and Brett Lebda. Of all positions the Leafs have the depth on the back-end and although the transition was not glaring, Head Coach Ron Wilson would have preferred less goals against in the comeback loss.
“We gave up four goals,” said Wilson when asked if he thought his blue-liners had stepped up their play. “We’ve been a lot stingier than that this year. We’ve got to find a way to play better.”
The Maple Leaf’s offensive struggles and questions surrounding it’s fix have merit, however the fine lining regarding this team is becoming increasingly apparent in their character and ability to remain competitive on most nights. That ability alone has rewarded the team at least one point on a few occasions this season, although the players themselves would much rather collect the two.
“We can be proud of the way we played tonight,” said Francois Beauchemin. “Everyone chipped in with little things that helped us come back in the third. Monster made some huge saves and we killed that penalty. But we can’t be satisfied with one point. We had a one-goal lead and one more kill, we would have done it.”
While the notion is becoming stale within the locker room, the Maple Leafs can look to build upon some positives from this game as they prepare for the Buffalo Sabres. The struggling Sabres will head down the QEW to Toronto on Saturday and look to continue their trend of success playing at the Air Canada Centre.
About the Author
Written by RJ Emptage
Operations Manager of a retail chain in Southern Ontario (Sports Obsession). Specialize in licensed sports apparel and novelties (Visit sportsobsession.ca). Being from the Hamilton area I grew up and into a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf Fan, and look forward to a bright blue and white future...(I know that sounds crazy doesn't it?) Love all things sports and the next best thing to playing them, is talking them!