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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Capitals - 04/04/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals Tuesday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Capitals use speed, skill to dominate opening period, take game's first lead. The Capitals had the NHL's best record with a record of 52-18-8 entering Tuesday's action, and they began the game with a display of speed and skill that had the Leafs on their heels through the first period. Toronto was outshot 13-3 in the frame, and Washington produced the first goal of the night after an outstanding shot by centre Lars Eller beat Buds goalie Curtis McElhinney at the 14:34 mark.

The Caps' speed frustrated the Leafs' offence as it tried to establish a cycle game that had been thriving of late, and Washington pressed hard in Toronto's end for long stretches. There's a reason why the Capitals had carved out a 21-12-6 road record, and they showed it through the first 20 minutes. 

2. Leafs ratchet up effort in second, but Caps extend lead on power play marker. Toronto looked better in the middle frame, and forced the Capitals into a pair of minor penalties, but the Leafs were unable to beat netminder Philip Grubauer on either of them. And at the other end of the ice, Washington made the most of their own man advantage chance, striking for the second goal of the game halfway through the period on a Kevin Shattenkirk goal - his first with the Caps since being acquired from St. Louis - to extend the lead.

The Leafs managed 10 shots on net in the second, but as the period unfolded, Washington reasserted themselves, again spent a great deal of time in Toronto's zone, and fired another 13 shots on McElhinney. The Buds were playing their second game in as many nights (after beating Buffalo 4-2 Monday) and the Caps were rested and waiting for them at the ACC, but Leafs head coach Mike Babcock likely won't accept any excuses for his team's inability to generate goals against an opponent that has the league's second-most-potent offence (with an average of 3.23 goals-per game).

3. Washington's defence stymies Leafs with solid structural play. The Caps didn't play in the Leafs' zone for the entire game, but when Toronto did move the play into Washington's end, they had difficulty getting quality second-chance scoring plays and couldn't work the puck to the inside of the ice. That made Grubauer's job much easier, and the Buds couldn't build any real momentum.

4. Capitals go ahead by three after zone-clearing attempt goes awry for Gardiner. Toronto's defence has contributed at both ends of the ice this season, but this won't be remembered as their best all-around game. Blueliner Jake Gardiner is enjoying a career-best year in the points department, but his turnover on a clearing attempt in his own zone in the third period led directly to Washington's Nate Schmidt scoring his third goal of the season at the 8:11 mark to increase the Capitals' lead to 3-0.

The Leafs didn't lose this game because of Gardiner, but when you play against a powerhouse squad like the Caps, errors like the one he made will almost certainly come back to haunt you. 

Video: WSH@TOR: Marner slams home late power-play goal
 
5. Marner scores to break Grubauer's shutout bid, but Leafs can't generate enough of it to keep up with high-octane Caps. The Leafs were in danger of being shut out for only the third time all season - and the the first time since a Nov. 30 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames - but winger Mitch Marner scored his 19th goal of the year with 1:08 left in regulation to break Grubauer's shutout bid. But the goal came far too late to make a difference on this night, and the Leafs had their four-game win streak snapped.

Toronto will have Wednesday to work on their game before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday in a must-win game for both sides. The Lightning lost 4-0 to the Boston Bruins Tuesday and sit five points behind the Leafs for the final wild card berth in the Eastern Conference, but Toronto has a game in hand on the Bruins (who sit one point ahead of them in the standings) and the Buds could clinch a playoff berth with a victory. The motivation is there - and after the results of Tuesday's game, the Leafs will want to put forth their best effort of the season.

 

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