Losing the right way?
It sounds ridiculous.
But when you look the losses that have built up over the course of the season, it won’t be remembered for anything other than Peter Horachek’s first loss as Interim Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“There were some good things, we out-chanced them, our possession numbers were better,” Horachek said. “We outshot them, but we gave away some poor timely goals.”
It’s part of the growing pains the Leafs are about to endure and in a lot of ways have experienced before.
Line combinations were shuffled around many times over. The Leafs had a tight start to the game but managed to bear down as the game went along.
The Leafs have seen the script before, but it was in their victories where the other stats that are used to track progress weren’t favourable.
The change offered a form of consolation.
“There’s some areas where I thought we stopped working, some areas where some guys let up and we can fix that,” said Horachek. “There’s some positive things but at the end of the day it’s the win column that matters.”
The 26 shots against was the lowest total the Leafs have given up since allowing 26 on Dec. 4 against the Devils.
“I think you saw improvement tonight like the shot totals,” said Daniel Winnik, who scored his second goal of the season. “There are some areas we have to sharpen up like the soft slot, they had a lot of chances from there. I think (if) we progressively improve on those areas the shot totals will be even less.”
Mistakes cost the Leafs that didn’t have to do with possession. Internal stats indicated Toronto only gave up 12 scoring chances.
A shorthanded goal in the second period gave the Capitals a lead they never gave up and moved the Leafs into a tie with Buffalo for the League lead in shorthanded goals-against.
Later in the second, the Leafs appeared to generate some momentum.
Trevor Smith grabbed his first of the season to cut a two-goal lead down to one, but it was short lived. The Capitals restored their cushion just 42 seconds later when Marcus Johansson notched his second tally of the game.
The first half of the season is done. The Leafs sit at 21-17-3 and look to build the team going forward. After Horachek’s first game he shared insight into his philosophy, something he termed as five-five-five
“We want five guys in the defensive zone, in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone,” said Horachek. It’s all connected and we believe that’s the way it has to be.”
Everyone has to buy in. Mistakes are going to happen. But after one game, they’ll live with it — for now.
Leading by example
In the first period, Roman Polak left the game after taking a slapshot to the cheek. After going off for repairs, nobody would have been surprised if Polak remained out for the duration of the game. Instead, Polak returned in the second period with a pretty gruesome look after a stitch job.
Polak’s return had an impact in the game, and set an impressive character example going forward.
“That’s unbelievable” said Leafs defenceman Stephane Robidas. “Coming back with no visor, no cage nothing. He came back and made a big play on Smitty’s goal. He’s a warrior, I knew he was a warrior but he proved it to us again.”