TORONTO – Forced to ice a lineup missing seven players due to injury, the Toronto Maple Leafs got contributions from all sorts of unexpected places.
Much-maligned goaltender Jonas Gustavsson made a career-best 40 saves, Matt Frattin scored his first NHL goal and Cody Franson chipped in his first as member of the Maple Leafs during a 7-1 victory over the reeling Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
Toronto also got some offence from its most consistent performers as Joffrey Lupul had a goal and three assists and Phil Kessel added a goal and an assist to boost his NHL lead in both goals (14) and points (13).
Tim Connolly, Tyler Bozak and David Steckel had the other goals for the Leafs (11-7-2), who won for the first time in five games at Air Canada Centre.
Brooks Laich replied for Washington (10-7-1).
Times are extremely tough for the Capitals, a team with heady expectations that is mired in a 1-5-1 stretch. No player better encapsulates their struggles than captain Alex Ovechkin, who was held without a point for a fourth straight game and heard derisive chants of “Ovvvviii! Ovvvviii!” in the third period.
Gustavsson has endured his share of ups and downs in the Toronto goal this season, but Saturday he delivered a strong performance. He turned away all 15 shots he faced in the second period, including two in quick succession from the frustrated Ovechkin.
The breakout performance came at just the right time for the Leafs. The team is playing without injured top goaltender James Reimer, defenceman Mike Komisarek and forwards Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Colby Armstrong and Mike Brown.
Despite that, it was clear early on that this would be a good night for the home team. Connolly opened the scoring at 1:38 with a well-placed wrist shot, and even though Laich tied it less than a minute later, the Leafs were back ahead before the intermission.
Frattin made it 2-1 with 43.9 seconds left in the first by beating Caps starter Tomas Vokoun high. His first NHL goal came in his 18th game.
Vokoun would soon be chased from the goal after allowing goals to Bozak and Kessel less than six minutes into the second period. Michal Neuvirth didn’t have much better luck, getting beat on the power play by Lupul and Frattin just over two minutes apart to make it 6-1 Toronto heading to the third period.
The Caps looked dejected as the skated out the final minutes of their most lopsided loss of the season, and Steckel put them away with a breakaway goal as the clock wound down.
It was also Washington’s fourth missed to get coach Bruce Boudreau his 200th career NHL victory. But they clearly have bigger concerns than that heading into Monday’s game against Phoenix.
The Leafs headed out quickly after the final buzzer sounded, as they play at Carolina on Sunday. They called up defenceman Korbinian Holzer from the AHL for the road trip.
Notes: The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to legendary goaltender Johnny Bower during a stoppage in play. He turned 87 on Nov. 8. … With Komisarek out, John-Michael Liles wore an ‘A’ for Toronto. … Capitals defenceman Mike Green sat out with a groin injury. They’re 2-7-1 without him this season. … Steckel played 291 games with Washington from 2005 to 2011. … Announced attendance was 19,594.