WASHINGTON D.C. – Completely engulfed by the thunderous red of Alex Ovechkin and company, the Toronto Maple Leafs had no answers in the U.S. capital on Tuesday night.
"They pretty much did everything a little better tonight," said a frustrated Joffrey Lupul following the Leafs' 5-1 loss, his first game back from a concussion.
Opening the night with at least a chance to clinch a playoff spot – the Jets eventually won negating the matter – the Leafs were bullied and battered at the Verizon Center, victims of a Capitals squad that has now run up eight straight victories.
The beat-down may have been due though. Just a night earlier the shoulders of James Reimer were all that kept the Devils from two points, the Leafs completely outplayed in a 2-0 victory which saw them weave together a season-low (tie) 13 shots.
"We obviously got away with one [Monday] night," Jay McClement said, "and tonight obviously we had another flat effort and we paid the price. Hopefully it's a wake-up call for us."
"It looked like we had nothing in the tank, we had nothing to give," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle added. "It just seemed like we got worn down. We weren't playing anywhere near to the level which was required in tonight's hockey game."
Washington scored a three-pack in the middle frame to all but snuff out the visitors, Ovechkin capping the dominant period with his 19th marker in the past 18 games and league-leading 28th this season, a one-timed laser past Ben Scrivens on a power-play. Stagnant and reactive in place of their usually feisty disposition – as was the case against New Jersey – the Leafs spent large chunks of the evening chasing the Capitals around. The six minor penalties they took and their disjointed man-advantage (0-3) did not help either.
"We know the quality that we can play," said Mark Fraser. "We've done it all year. We haven't had big hiccups like this and mental lapses for a couple months. You can't afford to have it at this moment, especially with the postseason around the corner."
The one-sided defeat marked just the second time in the past 15 games the Leafs failed to pick up at least a point (9-2-4). Tuesday's "wake-up call" may have come in the nick of time. With just five games to go and a long-awaited playoff berth soon on hand, the time to eradicate recent concerns and return to a speedy, pushy attack is now.
"We need to really get back to what it is that we're good at, playing our style and not trying to respond to other people's games," Fraser continued. "It's definitely a lesson learned hopefully for us moving forward. But it would've been nice to learn the lesson without this consequence."
"It's a loss," Lupul concluded, "doesn't really matter how it happened, we just have to refocus and get ready for Thursday."
1. Lupul's return
Twelve days after he was crunched by the Flyers tag-team of Jay Rosehill and Adam Hall, Lupul was back in the Toronto lineup, returning to a line with Nazem Kadri and Nik Kulemin. The 29-year-old was quiet in just under 18 minutes of ice-time, totaling two shots and a pair of minor penalties in what was his 11th game this season. "Very rusty," Carlyle said of Lupul, who had missed the previous five games with a concussion. "Very rusty." A red-hot force before the injury, Lupul had strung together eight goals and 14 points in a 7-game span. He was an electric, dynamic presence after missing 25 games with a fractured right forearm. That zip was missing on Monday evening though, probably not surprising considering the type of injury and how difficult it is to come back from. "I felt fine," he said afterward. "Just didn't really get into the game early on and they played well."
Lupul was emphatic in the days leading up to his return that he would not rejoin the team until he was fully and completely 100 percent. Still, his timeline back to the lineup was rather quick. It was exactly a week earlier that Lupul last reported concussion-like symptoms and was forced to remain off the ice following his first two days of skating last week. Asked the determination process for his return against the Capitals, he responded abruptly, "I passed the test." Some confusion ensued moments later when Lupul suggested that he had not received clearance until Tuesday, conflicting with the notion that he was available to play on Monday.
2. Ovechkin's rule
The Leafs were well aware of Ovechkin's exploits in recent weeks, but as he's done to numerous foes in the past few months, the Capitals captain found the back of the net and also added an assist. "It seems now that he's back on right-wing he seems to be a much more visible player on the ice," Carlyle said of Ovechkin shortly before the game. "You notice him a lot more when you're watching the tape and you notice him when you're watching the highlights, he's on them all." Ovechkin blitzed a Mike Green feed over the right shoulder of Scrivens for Washington's fourth goal. "He's very lethal and very dynamic and energetic out there," said Fraser. "Everyone on the ice knows when he's on the ice, that's just his presence … When he's determined he's a force to stop."
Ovechkin has owned the Leafs in his career. He now has 25 goals and 46 points in 30 career games.
3. Long-time since…
The Leafs penalty kill allowed two power-play goals. Washington scored twice in six opportunities on Tuesday, the first time in 33 games – February 5th – that the Toronto special teams unit had allowed two markers. Ovechkin's second period goal also snapped a perfect 28-for-28 streak for the penalty kill, which remains third best in the league at 87 percent.
4. Scrivens' evening
Making his first start since March 26 – a 40-save victory against Florida – Ben Scrivens yielded five goals on 37 shots. "It seemed like I didn't play my best, but I didn't get the best bounces either," he said afterward. "But you know what I've got to come up with some more saves to help the team out I guess." The 26-year-old wasn't the determining factor in defeat – the fifth marker was his only clear mistake – but he did not come up with the big, timely saves either. Additionally concerning in Carlyle's mind was the penalty Scrivens took in the final frame, this just a few minutes after Grabovski had inched the Leafs to within three at 4-1. "He contributed to it in our minds," said Carlyle of the holding the stick infraction. "You can't take a penalty … it's 4-1, we get a goal and make it 4-2 it's a different hockey game."
5. Dry spells
Without a goal in the past 12 games, Clarke MacArthur was a healthy scratch for the first time this season on Tuesday. MacArthur was joined in the press box by Matt Frattin, who hasn't scored since his return from a knee injury, a 13-game span that has him stalled on seven goals. Nazem Kadri meanwhile, went scoreless for the seventh consecutive game in April and has just two assists since his hat trick in Ottawa. Mikhail Grabovski finally ended a 10-game goal spell, redirecting a Ryan Hamilton shot for his ninth goal this season.
Quote of the Night
"They pretty much did everything a little better tonight."
¬-Joffrey Lupul on the Capitals performance.
Quote of the Night II
"When he's determined he's a force to stop."
-Mark Fraser on Alex Ovechkin.
9-2-4: Record in the past 15 games.
28: Straight penalties killed for the Leafs before Alex Ovechkin scored on a power-play in the second frame.
0: Goals for Nazem Kadri in April. Kadri, who still leads the team with 17 goals this season, has just two assists in that span.
11-7-3: Road record this season.
12: Games without a goal for Clarke MacArthur, who sat as a healthy scratch for the first time this season on Tuesday.
2-1: Record versus Washington this season.
13: Games without a goal for Matt Frattin, also scratched on Tuesday.
17:42: Joffrey Lupul.
The Leafs return home to face the pesky Islanders at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday.