WASHINGTON – In order to end a three-game losing streak, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz called upon his leaders to provide a skid-busting confidence boost.
His plea was answered at Verizon Center on Sunday, when the Capitals handily defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 4-0 victory.
Alex Ovechkin had three points, including his NHL-leading 40th and 41st goals. Goaltender Braden Holtby made 32 saves for his 30th victory and seventh shutout of the season.
"That’s the guy that gets us off to a [good] start," Trotz said of Ovechkin. "[He] got us off to a great start, first shift, scores. I thought our first period, the [Maple Leafs] had some really good looks. And Holtby was really good for us. I thought he was sort of the difference maker and we got better as the game went on."
Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward also scored for the Capitals (34-20-10). Defenseman Tim Gleason, acquired by Washington from the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, skated 18:34 with three hits.
"Before the game, there’s a lot going on, but once you get going, it’s instincts," Gleason said. "I played the game a long time, so it kind of comes natural a little bit. There’s a system in place, but, you know, the way the guys, it’s a heck of a team that can skate really well, so if you’re messing up, there’s guys there to back you up. Overall, it was pretty easy out there."
Goaltender James Reimer made 28 saves for Toronto (25-33-5), which has lost a team-record 16 consecutive road games (0-14-2). The Maple Leafs have been outscored 49-15 during the skid.
"They’re getting chances, they’re not going in," Maple Leafs coach Peter Horachek said. "They’ve got to bear down and get the chances. They’ve got to finish their chances. They’ve got to be more willing to get on the inside, more willing to get in front of the net, stay there and get second opportunities. It’s not a secret that when you’re trying to score goals you’ve got to get on the inside."
After the Capitals regrouped in the neutral zone, Ovechkin cut toward the net, beating Reimer from the slot with a wrist shot 33 seconds into the first period. It was Washington’s fastest goal to start a game this season.
"It’s always important to have that kind of start, get the lead right away, take the pressure off," Ovechkin said. "That’s what I was saying, I think a couple games we don’t have that kind of start, that kind of jump. It doesn’t matter if it’s [a] goal, you just play in the zone, 30, 40 seconds, make a big [play]."
With the goal, Ovechkin clinched the seventh 40-goal season of his 10-year NHL career, breaking a tie with Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr for the most among active players. He became the 17th player in NHL history to accomplish the feat.
Ovechkin is now tied with linemate Nicklas Backstrom, New York Islanders forward John Tavares and Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek for the League lead with 65 points.
"I probably said at least five or six times, ‘My God, I’m lucky to be on this team,’" Gleason said. "I’ve watched him for so long, and it’s always the other way around. He’s a heck of a player, and it’s great to have him, or play with him, I should say."
In the second period, Reimer stopped Brooks Orpik’s slap shot, but kicked the puck toward Ovechkin, who backhanded the rebound past him at 5:30. One minute later, the Capitals received a power play when Roman Polak tripped Ward. In search of a natural hat trick, Ovechkin fired two shots and missed another.
Perhaps Toronto’s best opportunity to score came at 6:42 of the third period when Richard Panik collected Dion Phaneuf’s rebound and hit the goal post with a wide-open net. As play continued, a frustrated Panik slammed his stick on the glass.
Johansson scored on the power play at 9:14, stuffing in a cross-crease pass from Troy Brouwer for his career-high 15th goal. Ward scored an empty-net goal from the neutral zone at 15:07.
"No one wants three losses in a row and I think it's just a good feeling to get that team effort," Johansson said. "For [Holtby] to get the shutout, that got us right back in it. It's a good feeling."
Sunday, the Capitals acquired forward Curtis Glencross from the Calgary Flames for a second- and third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. With the NHL Trade Deadline approaching at 3 p.m. ET on Monday, the Capitals are encouraged by the additions to the roster.
"I think we've got everything we need in here," Johansson said. "[Gleason] played a great game tonight. He was solid all night long and not many mistakes. Plays strong and physical and then simple. That's what we need. We've got a good feeling in here. If we play like we did tonight, I think we're pretty hard to beat."