TORONTO — While they cleaned up so many of the mistakes that plagued them earlier in the week, recorded a season high in shots on goal and received a strong performance from the starting goaltender, the Washington Capitals couldn’t find a way to put it all together in the form of a win Saturday night.
Washington played a greatly improved game in its own end and fired 50 shots against Toronto Maple Leafs netminder James Reimer but beat him only once — with less than five minutes remaining in regulation — and ultimately fell, 2-1, in a shootout after James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul scored.
The Capitals have lost three straight, but this defeat stung in a way the others didn’t — the players felt they deserved a better result for their effort.
“I think it was probably one of the best games we’ve played, but we don’t get results,” said Alex Ovechkin, who tied the game at 1 with 4 minutes 10 seconds remaining in regulation with his league-leading 20th goal of the season. “We have to stick with the system and take this game in our mind.”
On Saturday morning, hours after Washington dropped Friday’s game, 3-2, to the Montreal Canadiens in an error-ridden performance at Verizon Center, Coach Adam Oates “blasted” the team’s performance. He wanted to see the Capitals (12-10-2) follow the game plan, show some defensive aptitude and not self-destruct when play entered their own zone.
They responded. While it wasn’t a flawless outing — the Maple Leafs created a handful of solid looks on odd-man rushes — the support in the defensive zone was apparent through clean exits and simple plays to derail any opposing momentum. That strong play also aided goaltender Braden Holtby, who finished with 27 saves.
“It was night and day. Night and day. We stuck to the game plan. We handled the pressure when we got it,” Oates said. “We did a better job of not shooting ourselves in the foot giving them a second and third chance and wearing ourselves out. We handled the pressure when it was there. We made a decent play, gave it to the next guy, got centered, got it in, allowed ourselves to get into our game.”
For all of the Capitals’ improvements in their own end, though, they didn’t do enough to truly challenge Reimer. The volume of shots didn’t necessarily equate to an overwhelming night for the netminder.
“Honestly, it was more of them just throwing pucks at the net from everywhere,” Reimer said. “As far as tiring games and stuff like that, I’ve had some 30-, 35-shot games that have been more tiring and more gassing, you could say, because offensive-time zone, stuff like that.”
After a scoreless first period that saw Holtby weather a number of quality scoring chances, including Phil Kessel on the doorstep and a point-blank one-timer from Nikolai Kulemin, Washington took control in the second. The Capitals outshot Toronto 11-0 through the first 11 minutes, drawing a pair of penalties in the process.
Those four minutes of power-play time offered the clearest demonstration of Washington’s inability to fluster Reimer. They put seven shots on goal during those two power plays, including many booming blasts from the slot, but they didn’t have anyone in front obstructing the goaltender’s view.
“You can see if we get chance to shoot the puck, we don’t have nobody in front of the net,” Ovechkin said. “Right now this league it’s pretty hard to score from the blue line or middle of the ice if goalie see the puck.”
Nicklas Backstrom concurred: “We talked about it actually after the first power play but couldn’t get enough guys in front of the net. That’s something we’re looking at. That’s something we need.”
Less than a minute after Washington’s second power-play opportunity expired, the Maple Leafs (14-8-1) received their first of the game, and David Clarkson gave them a 1-0 lead with a deflection in front 10:08 gone in the second. It was precisely the type of threat Washington lacked on its man-advantage.
After being limited to three shots through the first 55 minutes, Ovechkin found just enough space to shake his Maple Leafs detail after an outlet pass from Mike Green and blasted a slap shot through Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf and Reimer to even the score at 1.
But Ovechkin’s tally was only enough to secure one point, not two.
“We put up a bunch of shots, we don’t give up as many and we still lose a game. It kind of stinks,” John Carlson said. “I think we played a great hockey game from the defense to offense, goaltending was great and we didn’t come out with a win.”
Notes: Mikhail Grabovski needed 20 stitches to close two wounds near his right eye after he fell and was accidentally cut by Clarkson’s skate late in the second period. He returned to the game in the third and finished the contest. . . . Martin Erat was a healthy scratch.
More on the Capitals:
Capitals Insider: Grabovski avoids serious injury after being cut on face
Capitals Insider: Fehr returns to lineup against Toronto
Capitals Insider: Five thoughts on the loss to the Canadiens
Capitals Insider: Oates frustrated by loss to Montreal