Mar 16, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer (20) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs Unable To Overcome Early Deficit, Lose 4-2 To Washington Capitals

The Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves in a hole early and were unable to climb out in today’s afternoon game against the Washington Capitals. The Leafs dropped behind 3-0 within the first 10 minutes of play, all three coming off poorly defended plays with high pressure down low around the blue paint. Despite only managing two shots (compared to Washington’s 14) in the first Troy Bodie managed to make good on one of them lifting the puck up and over the shoulder of Washington’s newly acquired Jaroslav Halak and into the net to take Toronto into the intermission down 3-1. Washington’s Joel Ward was easily the Caps standout player scoring his 20th of the season from his rear-end and knocking another in off of a teammate’s skate. He was awarded the first star of the game.

The second saw a drastic improvement by the Leafs. Right off the opening faceoff it was clear that they were making changes, with David Clarkson out alongside Tyler Bozak and James van Reimsdyk. Kessel would go out next with Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, although the lines were juggled to the point that most forwards were playing with unfamiliar line mates at some point. Toronto would put 20 shots on Halak in the period but the only one that found the twine was a floater from far out by Phaneuf that knuckled its way through trafic and past the goaltender.

The third was a decent showing for Toronto, where they managed 7 shots however a late charge was interrupted by a penalty to Jake Gardiner with just over three minutes left in the contest. They would continue the attack with an empty net when the young defender had left the box and stayed on as an attacker, but the Capitals would seal the deal with their fourth goal, an empty netter.

Goaltending Concerns? 

Three goals in I was admittedly preparing myself to write an autopsy not a recap, but I did not think for a second that James Reimer deserved to be pulled from the net in favor of minor league journeyman (who’s been nothing short of exceptional for the Marlies this season) Drew MacIntyre. All three of the goals were scored from in tight with either an empty man, a redirected puck, or a combination of the two. The penalty kill was abysmal with Washington scoring on the first two despite literal inactivity from Alex Ovechkin. The defense was scrambled  and nobody seemed interested in covering their responsibilities. On one of the goals (I believe the third) Carl Gunnarsson had made a pinch to check on a man in the winger’s slot and the other defender had chosen to go for a little skate in pursuit of no one in particular.

Reimer wasn’t spectacular by any means but the loss can’t be pinned on him as he wasn’t given the opportunity to succeed. If a goalie can give up 3 goals in the first 10 minutes and leave the game above .900 something’s wrong.

Joel Ward American Hero? 

Joel Ward is an excellent third liner. One of the better ones I can think of that’s not a Boston Bruin. I don’t believe Eric Fehr is his regular partner as when Mikhail Grabovski is healthy he would likely move down a line. He played very well, however. Being heavily involved in two goals in the first. This of course earned him praise both from who ever picked the three stars and Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos who claimed that with the exception of Ovechkin, Ward is possibly Washington’s most valuable player. I was ready to pooh-pooh this assertion, but have a look at his STATS. Ward has already amassed a career high 20 goals, 20 assists, and 113 shots (that with an admittedly high 17.7% shooting percentage). Absolutely shattering any of his previous totals. He’s also being outhit quite a bit breaking his old mold of a grinder type of player. That sounds bad but you can’t hit people if you have the puck, so it shows that he’s skating with the puck more and spending less time defending.

The skeptic in me immediately assumes that he’s being protected. Given favorable minutes and match-ups in the hopes that he won’t be exploited and his production will go up. Possibly for trade value down the line. Nope, I was wrong. Joel has started less than 26% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and has spent the exact same portion of his team’s penalty kills as he has powerplays on the ice at 32.2% each.

Bravo Joel Ward. Come to Toronto, please?

Newly found Depth? 

Once again Toronto has found scoring in places that were lacking early in the season with a goal from a defender and inexplicable AHLer Troy Bodie. Toronto’s defensemen haven’t been able to score all season, but they’re suddenly finding the net which gives me hope that the team might be able to find a way when the top line is taking a well deserved night off. One of the best lines in my opinion was Mason Raymond with Nikolai Kulemin and David Clarkson. They played good, hard, defensively minded minutes and got a couple pucks on net which didn’t always come easily against this usually defensively soft Capitals team.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say I’d love for the unexpected scoring to continue.

Your Toronto Maple Leafs play their next game against the Detroit Redwings, and as always we’ll have all of the lead up stories and followup right here on Editor In Leaf. For the first time in what feels like ages the Leafs play a game at a normal time for the East coast and I have class. B-E-A-utiful.

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