Maple Leafs 5, Capitals 4
-- All of the lucky breaks and strange bounces that the Washington Capitals benefited from tonight -- and there were many -- were not enough to offset their shaky penalty killing. The Capitals yielded three power-play goals at Air Canada Centre, including the game-winning score, in a 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Capitals (9-11-2, one win in seven games) were close to being buried from the start, but hung around in a back-and-forth game before finally buckling on special teams. Washington failed to capitalize on a five-minute power play early in the third period, then put Toronto on the man advantage. Defenseman Robert Svehla (three points) shot from the point, goalie Olaf Kolzig missed the puck with his glove -- a save he normally makes -- and the Maple Leafs had a lead they would not lose.
"When you give up that many power-play goals, it's huge," Capitals captain Steve Konowalchuk said. "That's the difference in the game. We don't give up three [power-play goals], we win the game."
The Capitals struggled through the first period yet emerged with a 2-1 lead. Toronto jumped them from the opening faceoff, pumping 18 shots in 18 minutes at Kolzig. The entire period was a scramble.
"That's the story of the Caps this year," first-year coach Bruce Cassidy said. "Inconsistency from shift to shift and period to period."
Center Brian Sutherby took an ill-timed penalty, something for which the team's fourth-line forwards have shown a knack, and Nikolai Antropov knocked his own rebound into the net on the power play. (Washington's penalty killing has slipped to 20th in the NHL.) Toronto captain Mats Sundin split the defense on the next shift and beat Kolzig between the pads on a breakaway, but the puck stayed a foot from crossing the goal line.
Every indication pointed to a rout, then the game turned completely. Capitals rookie defenseman Steve Eminger, who grew up and played juniors just outside of Toronto, thrilled his 12 friends and family members in attendance by picking up his first NHL point with 90 seconds left in the opening period. The 19-year-old sent a shot to net and Dainius Zubrus redirected it into the net for his second goal of the season, and second in two games.
Washington's checking line forced Toronto into taking an immediate penalty, and the Capitals went ahead on the power play. Defenseman Calle Johansson fired past goalie Ed Belfour's pad with 1.3 seconds remaining in the period for his first goal since October 2001 (29 games), another milestone in his return from a career-threatening shoulder injury.
"To come out of the first period down 2-1 is a hard pill to swallow," Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker said.
Toronto swarmed the net as the second period began, making Kolzig dance about the crease and beating him on Tomas Kaberle's shot from the point 34 seconds in. The Maple Leafs broke the tie four minutes later when the Capitals could not clear the puck and Robert Reichel raced to the net all alone and scored on the short side.
"Until we learn to take care of our own end and cut down on the shots against, we're going to struggle," Capitals winger Mike Grier said.
The lead spread to 4-2 on the power play. Fourth-line winger Andreas Salomonsson was called for a questionable slashing penalty and Mikael Renberg spun around the net undetected and scored. The Capitals answered swiftly on the power play. Michael Nylander (three points tonight, nine points during his five-game scoring streak) got a shot as far as the goal line where it rested until Belfour nudged it in.
Washington enjoyed good fortune on the tying goal as well. Sutherby retrieved the puck, flung it to net and it struck Toronto's Aki Berg and went in for the rookie's first NHL goal.
Toronto defenseman Wade Belak was ejected from the game before the second period ended for elbowing Brendan Witt in the head -- he will likely be suspended -- but the Capitals could not score on the five-minute power play, while Toronto converted its next power-play opportunity.
Capitals Notes: Winger Peter Bondra (back spasms) missed his second straight game and did not practice. Bondra is unsure if he will be able to play Wednesday night, either, and may begin acupuncture treatment. "Hopefully, I'll wake up and feel better," Bondra said. . . .
Winger Jaromir Jagr (groin strain) left the ice a few minutes into the morning skate after aggravating the injury but played heavy minutes tonight. . . .
Johansson became the franchise leader in power-play goals by a defenseman (51). . . .
Struggling defenseman Jean-Francois Fortin and forward Glen Metropolit were healthy scratches.