Martin puts Leafs on top early thanks to incredible setup from Marner. Veteran winger Matt Martin scored his first regular-season goal in a Leafs uniform Wednesday, and he made it two goals in two games Saturday by beating Capitals netminder Braden Holtby on a breakaway at 2:35 of the opening period to give Toronto a 1-0 advantage. But he wouldn't have had that opportunity were it not for an astonishingly good stretch pass from youngster Mitch Marner, who earned his 10th assist on the play and moved into a tie with blueliner Morgan Rielly for the team high in that category.
The Buds were all over the Caps to start the game, outshooting the visitors 12-1 in the first nine minutes of action (and 15-6 in the first period) and forcing Washington to take three minor penalties before the first intermission. Toronto nearly extended their lead a number of times, but Marner's memorable helper was guaranteed to stand out regardless of the way the rest of the evening unfolded. The 19-year-old rookie continues to assert himself as one of the more creative and dynamic players - not only on the team, but in the NHL itself.
Power play persistence pays off with team-best ninth goal from van Riemsdyk. The Leafs continued moving the puck well in the middle frame and pressured the Capitals into their fourth minor of the game - and 39 seconds into the power play, winger James van Riemsdyk knocked home a rebound from a Nikita Soshnikov shot for his team-leading ninth goal of the year. Marner also registered an assist on the goal to take sole possession of top spot in Toronto's assist department.
Although their power play success was helpful to the cause, the Leafs also benefitted from a focused penalty kill: midway through the middle frame, Toronto had to defend a 5-on-3 Capitals power play for 24 seconds, managed to prevent Washington from scoring on either man advantage, and also killed off a third minor penalty in the period. It's a common refrain, but special teams can set the tone and separate winners from losers at the NHL level - and on this night, the Buds were up to the challenge.
Video: WSH@TOR: Andersen reaches for amazing glove stop
Andersen in peak form. Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen has been functioning at a very high level for weeks now, but he continues to look more comfortable and confident with every game. Saturday was no different, as he was positionally sound throughout the game, stopped the first 20 shots he saw (including 14 in the second period and 33 of 35 on the night) and his rebound control was as solid as it's been since he's been in a Leafs uniform.
The 27-year-old earned an excellent reputation in his first three NHL seasons with Anaheim, and Leafs Nation is currently seeing him at his best - and understanding why management chose to acquire him last summer.
Video: WSH@TOR: Matthews hammers in a rebound to extend lead
Matthews starts off third period by ripping home a shot and building a two-game scoring streak. Centre Auston Matthews had a two-goal, three-point performance against New Jersey, and he kept his production going by netting his ninth of the year just 22 seconds into the third period to give the Buds a 3-0 lead.
Seven of Matthews' goals have come on the road, but it isn't as if the rookie has played poorly at home. Like all NHLers, he needs a little puck luck to go his way, and he's definitely received some in the past two games.
Caps strike midway through third, but Leafs show resilience to get back in win column. Washington has for years now had one of the league's more potent offences, but they weren't able to beat Andersen until a goalmouth scramble led to a Nicklas Backstrom goal (his sixth of the season) at the 9:30 mark of the third.
However, Toronto wasn't intimidated by the Capitals goal - to the contrary, as a matter of fact: the Leafs continued to keep the Caps on their heels through their transition game, and after a Marner breakaway failed to yield a goal, centre Nazem Kadri carved out a breakaway goal of his own on a terrific individual effort that began at centre ice, and he scored his ninth of the year at 11:50 to restore the Buds' three-goal lead. Washington added a goal with 3:16 left to play on Marcus Johansson's ninth of the season, but that was the final marker of the evening.
Thanks to their resilience, the Leafs ended their three-game losing streak and set a good tone in advance of their Western Canadian road trip that takes them to Edmonton Tuesday, Calgary Wednesday and Vancouver Saturday. The win also improved their home record to a stellar 8-3-0, making them only the fourth Eastern Conference team to win at least eight games in their own building thus far this year. The fans at the ACC have much to cheer about, and the Buds plan on giving them more.