WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals have been plagued by slow starts to games at various points throughout the season.
That was not the case Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.
The Capitals overwhelmed the Maple Leafs early, scoring three unanswered first-period goals in the first nine minutes before holding on for a 4-2 victory.
"That's the way we want to start for sure," said Capitals left wing Jason Chimera, who was one of three Washington goal-scorers. "You get on them, they were a little sluggish to start, and we pounced on them pretty good."
Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward scored for the Capitals (32-27-10), who embark on a weeklong West Coast road trip. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak, making his fifth straight start, made 27 saves.
Troy Bodie and Dion Phaneuf scored for the Maple Leafs (36-25-8), and goaltender James Reimer overcame a shaky start to stop 29 shots.
"We weren't good enough in the first 10 minutes," Reimer said. "It just happens. You can't spot a team three goals. We just weren't sharp, you know? Myself included. And it cost us. I thought we dominated the second [period] and the third was anyone's game, but we couldn't quite climb out of the three-goal hole."
Brouwer gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 3:34. With Jay McClement in the penalty box for hooking Mike Green, Washington worked its 1-3-1 power play to perfection, and Brouwer finished a tic-tac-toe passing sequence by beating Reimer in the slot for his 19th goal of the season.
Less than four minutes later, Washington extended its lead to 2-0. Chimera worked the puck from below the goal line to Karl Alzner at the point, and Reimer knocked down the defenseman's shot. Ward corralled the rebound and threw it through Reimer's legs, where it ricocheted off Chimera's skate and over the goal line at 6:57.
Ward scored his 20th goal of the season at 8:44, converting a slick backhand pass from Dustin Penner.
Ward, 33, became the eighth-oldest player in NHL history to have his first 20-goal season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"We're really happy for the guy," Brouwer said of Ward. "We're really happy he gets rewarded for what he does. A lot of the time he and [Chimera] and [forward Eric Fehr] get overshadowed because of the names that we have our team. Night in and night out, I think they are our most consistent line, and that's why they stick together. They are unsung for us."
Toronto, which took the game's first shot on goal, went nearly 16 minutes without another before Bodie made it 3-1 late in the first period. He was able to settle a bouncing puck in the slot and fire a wrist shot past Halak with 2:45 remaining.
The Maple Leafs returned from the first intermission with renewed energy and took control of the second period. Phaneuf brought Toronto within 3-2 at 8:05. The defenseman carried the puck along the blue line and scored on a seeing-eye shot from the left point that found its way through a heavy screen in front of Halak.
Toronto received three consecutive power-play opportunities within a 5:02 span following Phaneuf's goal, but the League's third-ranked power play could not tie the game against the 24th-ranked penalty kill.
After being outshot 14-2 in the first period, the Maple Leafs outshot the Capitals 20-6 in the second.
"They won the special teams battle and they built a 3-0 lead," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "We were fortunate to get ourselves back into the game. Bottom line is, we weren't sharp enough and we didn't play with enough energy or desperation in this hockey game."
The teams played a more evenly matched third period with Halak and Reimer stopping every shot that came their way.
With Reimer pulled for an extra attacker, Brouwer scored an empty-net goal with 3.9 seconds left. His clearing attempt caromed off the boards near the Capitals bench. Nicklas Backstrom trailed the puck as it slid toward the goal, electing not to touch it to give Brouwer his second of the game.
Capitals coach Adam Oates was asked how Backstrom's decision can resonate in the locker room.
"For him, it's already been established. They already know that about him," Oates said. "That's a very unselfish thing. … It's just a fantastic thing. That's who he is."
The Maple Leafs complete their five-game road trip Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Capitals begin their three-game California road trip Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks. Two points behind the New York Rangers for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Washington has put an emphasis on the week ahead.
"You've got to win them all," Oates said. "We haven't played [the Los Angeles Kings] yet, but we played [the Anaheim Ducks] here. We could've won the game and [the first game against the San Jose Sharks] the same thing.
"I know they're better than us in the standings, but you've got to have the attitude you're going to beat them."