Hutch not clutch in Maple Leafs loss to Capitals
WASHINGTON - The Maple Leafs were hoping to find the answer to their back-up goaltending issue, but four unanswered goals by the Capitals say otherwise.
For the second time, a promising Michael Hutchinson start went south, a 2-0 Leafs lead turning into a 4-3 loss to the Caps in a blur of second-period offence.
"He doesn't draw the great cards, obviously, with a back-to-back," noted coach Mike Babcock before the game. "But we have to a lot better than in his last start (a 6-5 shootout lost where the Leafs blew a three-goal lead)."
The Leafs didn't help him at those critical junctures, but the big save also eluded him and a couple of other close calls clanked off the iron. John Tavares's late goal, his 50th as a Leaf, made it closer.
Uncertainty about the No. 2 role goes back to early last season when the Leafs let Curtis McElhinney fly off on waivers and kept rookie Garret Sparks.
When the Leafs could no longer score their way out of trouble when Sparks proved inconsistent, an injury to starter Frederik Andersen gave Hutchinson some positive exposure. Hutchinson parlayed that into winning the back-up role by the end of the year and held it in camp when Michal Neuvirth imploded.
Wednesday's reversal of fortune for the goalie and his mates began with a minute to go in the first period, Toronto up 2-0 and the crowd at Capital One Arena getting restless.
Left defenceman Martin Marincin was drawn too far to the opposite side, leaving Jakub Vrana open for a blast. Vrana thought he had another when Washington intercepted in the slot and his shot went through Hutchinson, off his pad and the post. But Washington's frustrations were about to end.
A couple of Leafs tried one-handed checks on Evgeny Kuznetsov, who sailed right through and beat Hutchinson on a backhand deke. Eleven seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom took a nice T.J. Oshie feed and buried it from the Ovechkin launch pad.
Not done yet and with plenty of open ice because Nick Shore and Cody Ceci went off nine ticks apart, it was time for John Carlson to step into one with Ovechkin assisting. It gave the defenceman temporary possession of the NHL scoring lead.
Toronto, which played at home the night before in downing the Minnesota Wild, eventually found its legs again, but the damage was done.
The Caps are feeling the heat after a one-sided loss to Colorado left them winless in three games. Yet they did themselves no favours most of the opening period trying ill-advised passes and breakouts through an opportunistic Leaf web.
Certainly a soft neutral zone dump-in backfired with Morgan Rielly in the box. Kasperi Kapanen easily knocked it down, sent Trevor Moore away and then was there in front to tap in an empty netter, his first of the year.
Kapanen, moved back to the third line with Moore and Ilya Mikheyev on Tuesday, joined Justin Holl in reversing another rush later in the period, this time sending Mikheyev away for a short side breakaway goal, his third of the year.
If you really follow the KHL closely, Mikheyev beat Ilya Samsonov almost three years ago as a member of Omsk Avangard when Samsonov was with Magnitagorsk.
Mikheyev then started the third period with a promotion to the the Tavares-Mitch Marner line. A rare Auston Matthews penalty, the fifth of the game against Toronto before the Caps were finally whistled,hindered a third-period comeback.CAPTAINS OF INDUSTRY
The Leafs have a captain again, but not one with quite the media appeal of Alexander Ovechkin.
A cursory search of the 34-year-old on the internet will turn up memorable quotes, trick shots, cavorting in a fountain and his famous grin leading a ballpark crowd in song and dance. Oh, and he's been with Stanley in a parade. His emotions during the game set him apart from the quiet Tavares.
"Ovie has been here a long time, been a captain here long time and he's won the Cup," noted Babcock before the game. "That puts you in a different category, no matter what anyone says. You can have all the individual awards you want, but once you've won the Cup and you're a captain that's a special, special thing.
"That's what John wants to do and that's what makes him such as special leader for us. He's willing to sacrifice individual rights for team rights, he's all about winning and that's an important thing."
Ovechkin has had a hand in leading two teams this month.
The Washington Nationals were down 2-1 to the Dodgers in their National League playoff series when Ovie was invited to throw out the first pitch, an act he reprised from the year the Caps won the Cup. Washington rallied and then swept the St. Louis Cardinals to make the World Series.ONE MORE TIME
There has been a lot of talk about one-timers with the Leafs these days, particularly Matthews working on his during the summer and making it part of his seven goals in seven games before Wednesday.
But don't forget about how many times Ovechkin has uncorked his amid his 663 goals.
"I think everyone is still trying to figure that out," Leaf defenceman Tyson Barrie said of how to stop it before it's unleashed. "He's getting it off regardless of what you try to do. You just have to be mindful where he is and (particularly) off the draw when he's putting himself in position to get a one-timer. It's going to suck (blocking it) but you have to get in his lane."
As a Western Conference-raised player who rarely sees the Caps, Barrie was asked to clarify if he'd actually taken an Ovechkin shot somewhere on his body.
"No ... but it looks like it sucks."DEFENCE CAN'T REST
Babcock went back to the Holl-Marincin tandem on his bottomdefence pairing in consecutive games, even though he has the equally lanky Kevin Gravel to use if needed.
"We're not as stable yet as we're going to be," the coach said of the tandems he's used through the first seven games - Jake Muzzin and Barrie, Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci. "As we get to know each other better, I think partnerships take some time, but there's no question our top four have been around the league a little bit. We're still trying to figure out our five and six and as time goes on we'll get that worked out."
William Nylander has been grateful for the aid Toronto's fluid defence has added to his five points through seven games and to fellow forwards' numbers.
"They're holding on to the puck in the breakout and giving us chances to come down on odd-man rushes," Nylander said. "And they're making the quick right-up play when we're back-checking and getting back pressure."SAM I AM
Braden Holtby had played in 22 games against Toronto in his career, but the Leafs only had scant reference material on Wednesday's starter, 22-year-old Samsonov.
"We don't have as much pre-scout as we do on other guys," agreed Babcock. "But we've known about him for a long time because he's been considered a good prospect. He'll stay on his feet a lot more than some guys who've played in the league, he's a big guy. But let's get enough opportunities that we get to know something about him."LOOSE LEAFS
Sportsnet's Jim Hughson apologized early in Wednesday's broadcast for remarks on opening night about Auston Matthews' court case in Arizona when he compared it to what Patrick Kane went through before winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago ...The Leafs get Thursday off to collect their thoughts - and bitter memories - before facing Brad Marchand and the Bruins on Saturday at Scotiabank ... In addition to Nats' fever, the WNBA champion Washington Mystics were honoured before the game, Elena Donna Delle dropping the ceremonial puck ... Peter Horachek, a very popular Leaf coach in a short span, was scouting Wednesday's game for New Jersey ... Washington's Carlson had led the Caps in ice time in every game this season before Wednesday, including the most power-play time by a defenceman ... Barrie on Matthews: "He's got a great hockey IQ. He's a lot better than I knew before coming here."
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