ANNAPOLIS — Plan overboard!
Mike Babcock must have looked at the deep blue sea depicted under the Maple Leafs bench and felt like tossing whatever notes he made on containing the Washington Capitals right into the drink.
“They got on us, we didn’t execute like we go through and we didn’t have many good players,” coach Babcock said.
So after two storybook outdoor games, winning by shootout and overtime, Toronto was dead in the water at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Hoping to give a strong account against a playoff foe on the big stage — a replica aircraft carrier around the rink — they were swallowed 5-2 in a red, white and blue barrage.
“It’s unfortunate,” Babcock added. “In life you only get so many opportunities and you want these to be positive memories. We knew who we were playing (the team that beat Toronto in the playoffs last year). We knew it was a big night and they look at us and still think we’re kids. And we looked like we were kids tonight. They smacked us around pretty good. You have to give them credit.”
While this was not the ideal prep for Babcock, no game-day skate on new ice, the same went for both teams. Of immediate concern, now that the pomp and ceremony are done, the Leafs have lost a third straight on this road trip heading into Buffalo.
Babcock quickly cancelled any thought of Sunday being a day off this late in the road trip, especially if the Leafs were thinking of taking the last place Sabres lightly the next day.
“They’re battling for their livelihood,” he warned.
Washington coach Barry Trotz noted of the Leafs “this was the hottest team since the all-star break and we did all the right things.”
The Leafs looked as awkward as their near all-white sweaters and equipment worn for the navy-themed occasion. While many Leafs fans travelled a long way to see their team in this clunker, the 30,000 fans were plunged into darkness at the timeout to change ends at the 10-minute mark of the third period, a delay lasting 15 minutes.
Frederik Andersen allowed three-plus goals for the fourth straight game, and after Jakub Vrana beat him on a neutral zone turnover with no mates in sight, a miffed Babcock took mercy and summoned Curtis McElhinney. It was the first non-injury hook Babcock has needed all season.
“We just got off to a bad start and they capitalized on their power play (twice in the first period),” Andersen said. “There were certain spots where the lights, the reflection was a little different, but it was same for (Washington starter Braden Holtby).”
Babcock said he was trying to save Andersen for next week.
“The puck was going in and we didn’t want much more going in,” Babcock said with a shrug. “(But) he’s our guy, our starter and we have to look after him as best we can. I thought Mac gave us a chance to crawl back and we didn’t do that for him.”
To be fair, the recently receding Caps looked liked Presidents’ Trophy winners again. Right from the hop, the No. 1 line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson had a demoralizing even-strength goal less than a minute after Toronto tied it 1-1. Washington’s fourth line also took less than a minute to answer Nazem Kadri’s second-period strike.
Handing the home team two first-period power plays, the grateful Caps had goals from Evegeny Kuznetsov and Backstrom. Ovechkin’s goal was his 40th and warmed the crowd to the possibility of him notching two more for 600. He’s set to become the fourth player in National Hockey League history to hit 600 in under 1,000 games, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull.
The prediction from most veterans of these outdoor affairs was a slow start, especially with no time to test the ice, which was not an issue in the long run.
But there were four goals on the first 17 shots, including Zach Hyman tipping a Roman Polak attempt on the Leafs initial chance on Holtby. But Kuznetsov had banked in an early power-play goal with Travis Dermott off in the first five minutes.
Hyman’s goal was answered by Ovechkin and then with Dominic Moore in the box, a nice Kuznetsov drop to Backstrom made it 3-1. With Andersen out of position on a John Carlson goal that Babcock blew his challenge on and with no answer for Vrana, stopping the Caps became McElhinney’s thankless task.
Kuznetsov, Backstrom and Carlson all had three-point games, marking the second time it has been done in the 25 Stadium Series games. After looking like they’d get to Holtby in the playoffs, he improved to 8-3-1 against the Leafs in his regular-season career.
Meanwhile, Toronto fell to 1-1-2 in this latest series of games without the injured Auston Matthews, who lost his scoring lead to Mitch Marner this week. Marner and frequent outdoor contributors James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak were not effective playing under the stars this time.
“They did a good job of keeping it simple and in conditions like these (that’s the key),” van Riemsdyk said. “The atmosphere at these games is special, but we wanted to come out on the other side of it.”
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies