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Five Takeaways - Leafs at Capitals - 03/03/18

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md:

by Adam Proteau Proteautype / MapleLeafs.com

1. Outdoor game starts with goal flurry as Capitals and Leafs both quick to get on scoreboard. The Leafs and Capitals began the 2018 Stadium Series game with goals early in the opening period: the Caps struck first on centre Evgeny Kuznetsov's 20th goal of the season at 3:50, but Toronto winger Zach Hyman answered Kuznetsov's powerplay marker by netting his 13th of the year to tie it up at a goal apiece at the 5:20 mark.

Hyman had the puck deflect past Washington goaltender Braden Holtby after blueliner Roman Polak had fired it from the point. Every goal, assist and point Hyman produces is a new career high for the sophomore, who now has 34 points in 67 games after amassing 10 goals and 28 points last season. 

2. Ovechkin puts Caps ahead, Backstrom extends lead late in opening period as Buds surrender two power play markers before first intermission. The Caps for years have employed winger Alex Ovechkin and centre Nicklas Backstrom in starring roles. And both veterans scored before the first period ended to give Washington the lead and extend it.

Ovechkin netted his 40th of the year - the ninth time he's scored at least 40 in a season, putting him in a club comprised of only five other NHLers - 59 seconds after Hyman tied it, and Backstrom made it 3-1 by registering his 16th of the year, a powerplay marker with 3:40 left in the first. Toronto's two-goal deficit could be viewed as a result of a lack of success on the penalty kill, but the reality was Washington was a better team at 5-on-5 as well and the Leafs weren't at their sharpest in terms of defensive structure and shutting down scoring lanes. The veteran Caps - who are 22-9-2 at home this season - made them pay for that lack of sharpness.
 

3. Kadri cuts Toronto's deficit to a single goal, but Washington immediately answers back, reestablishes two-goal advantage. Toronto opened up the scoring in the second period when centre Nazem Kadri registered his 24th goal of the season (and third in his past four games) at the 7:22 mark. Unfortunately for Leafs Nation, the Capitals almost immediately answered back when D-man John Carlson scored 43 seconds later to restore Washington's two-goal lead.

Carlson's goal came on one of 18 shots the Caps put on Toronto's net in the period and put Washington squarely in the driver's seat, where they spent most of the frame. The Leafs had a hard time containing or slowing the Capitals' zone entries, and Buds goalie Frederik Andersen didn't receive much help from his teammates in their own end.
 

4. Capitals add to lead on Vrana's breakaway goal midway through second. The Buds weren't as engaged a team as the Capitals were, and another example of it came midway through the second period: Toronto was carrying the puck into Washington's zone, and the two Leafs defensemen headed off the ice on a pairings change; that became a problem when the Leafs' forwards couldn't push the puck deeper than the halfway point of the Caps' end, and the puck was sent by Kuznetsov directly to winger Jakub Vrana, who made the most of his breakaway opportunity by scoring his 11th goal at 10:49.

That goal spelt the end of the night for Andersen, who was replaced by Curtis McElhinney for the remainder of the game. The three-goal lead wasn't to be pinned solely or even mostly on Andersen, who has been Toronto's most consistent elite player night-in and night-out this season. But Leafs head coach Mike Babcock needed to shake up his squad, and a goalie change was his choice by which to do so. The Buds ended the second down by a trio of goals, and although their offence is capable of scoring in bunches and bursts, they had a tough enough go of it just matching Washington's intensity through 40 minutes of play.
 

5. Neither side puts puck in net in third, and after lights-out delay midway through frame, Caps close out Leafs. The Capitals held Toronto to only five shots on net in the first 16 minutes of the third period, which almost had to be divided into two separate periods due to a major stadium lights malfunction halfway through the frame that delayed the game from continuing for some 15 minutes. But both before and after the lights went out, the Leafs couldn't generate enough sustained offensive pressure to come back from a three-goal deficit.

Washington wasn't an offensive dynamo in the third, either, putting up only four shots on McElhinney in the first 18 minutes of the period. But they'd done all the damage they needed to in the first two periods, and expertly played the game along the boards and in the neutral zone for much of the third to close out the win and extend Toronto's losing streak to three games.

The Leafs will finish off their four-game road trip Monday with a tilt against the Buffalo Sabres, and they'll be eager to leave this flat performance behind them and go into a four-day break without games on a positive note.

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