Here are five takeaways from Toronto’s 3-2 shootout loss to Washington on Saturday night at Verizon Center:
It’s important to take advantage of a gift from the hockey stick gods.
Toronto’s first goal of the night came after a Capitals 2-on-1 ended with Alex Ovechkin’s stick breaking –- essentially giving the Leafs an odd-man rush the other way as the Washington sniper skated to the bench to get a replacement –- and Daniel Winnik rifling a wrist shot past netminder Braden Holtby to make it 1-0 for the visitors. If Ovechkin’s stick had stayed intact (and Maple Leafs defensemen Morgan Rielly hadn’t made a smart defensive play at the same time), the Buds would’ve been in a hole early. Instead, turning that situation into an immediate positive gave the Leafs confidence.
Losing Daniel Winnik to injury could be a major blow.
Shortly after Winnik scored his second of the season, the veteran forward had his left leg bend under him very awkwardly in a collision with Caps winger Justin Williams, had to be helped off the ice, and didn’t return to action. The 30-year-old Winnik arguably is Toronto’s top penalty-killer and has formed a solid two-way line with Joffrey Lupul and Nick Spaling. If he’s sidelined for a lengthy period of time, the Leafs will be in tough to replace what he brings.
Alex Ovechkin enjoys playing the Leafs.
With his second period marker Saturday, Ovechkin now has 31 goals and 54 points in 37 career games against Toronto. The 30-year-old’s eighth goal of the season was also his 483rd NHL career goal, tying newly-honoured Hockey-Hall-of-Famer Sergei Fedorov for the most goals scored by a Russian player in league history. Ovechkin also had the shootout winner to complete Washington’s comeback. This may come as a shocker to you if you just started watching hockey tonight, but this guy is pretty good.
Toronto’s penalty kill is getting better.
Even without Winnik for most of the night, the Leafs’ PK once again was functioning at a high level, denying the Capitals on five of six man advantages, including a 61-second 5-on-3 Caps power play late in the third period. The Buds entered the evening with a 77.8 PK success rating –- a number that had them in the bottom-third of the league in that regard –- but they’ve been vastly improved as of late and should have more faith in their penalty killing abilities after Saturday night.
Coach’s challenge goes the Leafs’ way – and saves them a standings point.
The Leafs haven’t had everything go their way with the new coach’s challenge this season – a Lupul goal Oct. 30 against the Rangers was disallowed for goalie interference on Henrik Lundqvist – but an Ovechkin goal with 2:39 remaining in regulation Saturday was called off after replay showed contact between Jason Williams and James Reimer. That overturned goal denied Ovechkin the record for Russian goal-scorers, and although the Capitals wound up scoring with one second left in the game, without that successful challenge, Nicklas Backstrom’s game-tying goal would’ve been the game-winner. As always, when it comes to any interpretation of the rules by the officials, sometimes the calls go your way, and sometimes the opposite occurs.