TORONTO – The home schedule for October is in the books for the Toronto Maple Leafs and it’s far from pretty.
Three wins out of nine home dates – and a chorus of boos to cap it off Monday night following a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Washington Capitals. “Just collectively, for some reason, we’re very fragile at home,” Leafs captain Mats Sundin said following the latest loss at Air Canada Centre.
Alexander Ovechkin scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season as the Caps pounded the enigmatic Leafs before an angry crowd of 19,316.
Brian Sutherby, Matt Bradley, Jeff Schultz, Matt Pettinger and Boyd Gordon all scored their first goals of the season for the Capitals (5-6-0) while centre Michael Nylander added three assists. Veteran Olaf Kolzig earned the win in goal for Washington, stopping 32 shots.
“We played very well tonight, all four lines played well, everybody scored and our goalie played well,” said Ovechkin, who now has nine goals in nine career games against the Leafs. “I think we deserved tonight’s win.”
No argument there, Alex.
Alexei Ponikarovsky scored for the Leafs (5-5-3), who looked nothing like the squad that picked up impressive victories in Pittsburgh and Manhattan heading into Monday’s game. Instead, it was the defensively challenged edition of the Leafs that re-surfaced, featuring poor defensive zone coverage, sloppy play and stupid penalties.
“How do I explain it? I can’t,” said Sundin. “Just too many breakdowns all over the ice … We did a lot of good things on the road but it seems we’re tight at home, we try to do too much.”
That’s exactly what Leafs head coach Paul Maurice also offered up, criticizing his players for trying to make too many difficult plays when the simpler ones were there instead. Why not chip it off the boards instead of trying a perfect pass up the middle, for example?
“Clearly there’s still difficulty in accepting to play a simple game,” said Maurice. “We just continued to try and make plays that weren’t there.”
The Leafs have now given up an NHL-high 51 goals on the season while offering up their worst play at home (3-4-2) where they now have a pair of 7-1 homes losses on their docket, also getting routed by Carolina on Oct. 9.
“It we’re going to be a playoff team we need to win at home,” said Sundin.
The home fans didn’t hide their disappointment, soundly booing the Leafs as they left the ice both at the end of the second period and at the final buzzer and several times in-between. They also gave goalie Andrew Raycroft, who replaced starter Vesa Toskala after Washington’s fourth goal, several mock cheers after easy saves in the second and third period.
By the time the third period started, at least one third of the Air Canada Centre was empty and one small section could be heard chanting “Let’s Go Raptors!”. The NBA season starts Wednesday for Toronto’s club.
Perhaps a return to the road is what’s needed for the Leafs and that’s just what’s on tap, a four-game set starting Friday at New Jersey followed by Saturday at Montreal, next Tuesday at Ottawa and Friday, Nov. 9, at Buffalo.
“We just have to bounce back and play like we did the last two games on the road,” said Toskala.
It got ugly right in the opening period Monday. Gordon, standing alone in front of the net, re-directed a Bradley pass to make it 1-0 at 3:19. Ponikarvosky gave the home fans some false hope when he tied it 1-1 just 31 seconds later, only to see Pettinger give the Caps the lead for good at 5:26 when he flipped a rebound over Toskala on a Caps power play.
Ovechkin made it 3-1 at 11:57 when he rifled a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle right through Toskala’s glove side. Schultz was then allowed to skate into the slot untouched two minutes later and ring a shot off the post and in. The boos began and chased Toskala to the bench, His night was over, but he was hardly the worst player on the ice, his team outshot 13-3 at this point.
Bradley beat Raycroft with a slap shot while short-handed 8:57 into the second period to make it 5-1 and by now it was clear there would be no Leafs comeback on this night. Ovechkin made it 6-1 at 11:09 when his power-play blast from the point beat Raycroft five-hole – the Russian star’s ninth goal in nine career games against the Leafs.
Sutherby skated in alone at 6:17 of the third period and deked out Raycroft to complete the massacre.
Notes: Both teams were missing key components. Caps Captain Chris Clark sustained a severely lacerated left ear when he was struck by an Ovechkin shot last Friday night. Star winger Alexander Semin is day-to-day after aggravating his sprained right ankle against St. Louis on Saturday. Defenceman Tom Poti (groin) was also out … Forwards Kyle Wellwood (groin) and Darcy Tucker (knee) and defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and Bryan McCabe (groin) remained out for the Leafs.