Leafs wake up late to cap perfect four-game trip, Matthews nets No. 10
A huge effort in the third period, both offensively and defensively, pushed the Maple Leafs to a 4-2 win in Washington on Saturday night. If this was a measuring-stick game for the Leafs, they’ll have concerns about their defensive-zone game but have to be pleased by a gutsy finish. Josh Leivo broke a 2-2 tie on a power play, while Auston Matthews rounded out the scoring into a gaping net with less than two minutes to go. Kasperi Kapanen and Par Lindholm had the other goals, and goalie Frederik Andersen turned in his best period of the year in the third. Toronto won all four road games this past week and sits at 5-1-0 to start the season. Offensive stars: For the first time this season, Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly didn’t dominate the scoresheet. Kapanen and Lindholm got into good position to tip in shots by defencemen. The Lindholm and Leivo goals were just the third and fourth all season without at least one of Matthews, Tavares and Marner on the ice. It was also Lindholm’s first NHL marker, with backup goalie Garret Sparks making sure he got the puck from the linesman. Jake Gardiner made a terrific shotpass leading to the Lindholm tip-in … Connor Brown had his best game of the season and was excellent on the cycle game in the third period … Matthews, of course, could not be denied. He scored his 10th goal on his 21st shot.
Defensive stars: Lindholm broke up a great Washington scoring chance with a diving poke check in the second period, moments after a Leafs power play that did everything but put the puck in the net … Washington controlled the play (54 per cent) and held a 7-4 edge in highdanger chances through two periods, though it seemed even larger. The Leafs defence, in other words, was short on star-calibre performances. Andersen was the difference maker.
Turning point: Leivo’s go-ahead goal was his first of the season after a summer of hard work, improving his skating strength in particular. Leaf special teams came up with a huge penalty kill just after Leivo’s goal.
Talking point: The Leafs’ defensivezone coverage was loose and vulnerable on too many occasions. Washington’s transition game and effective checking in the neutral zone produced multiple turnovers. Leaf defencemen were also caught way too deep in the offensive zone several times. Washington, the biggest team in the NHL, made use of its size advantage (Nazem Kadri was hit, upended and slashed in the first period alone) while Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored the second Caps goal, was the best player on the ice. He’s generating buzz in Washington the same way people in Toronto are talking up Matthews as the game’s best.
Takeaways: Kapanen looks like a keeper on the Matthews line. He’s had four solid games there and produced five points. Kapanen’s speed is a gamebreaking asset. The coaching staff wants him to retrieve the puck more, but Kapanen should be a 20-goal scorer or better with his offensive gifts … Leivo — in a rare chance for the second power-play unit — found the net early in the third. The second unit was on the ice in part because John Tavares took a nasty high stick to the face to draw the penalty. Overall, the Leafs have eight goals on 17 chances with the man advantage.
Who’s next? The Leafs host the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night. Eight of their next 10 are at Scotiabank Arena.
Capitals forward Tom Wilson, serving a 20-game suspension for an illegal check, will have his appeal hearing with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday in New York City, according to the players’ association.
The union filed for an appeal on Wilson’s behalf last Friday, and Bettman’s ruling won’t necessarily signal the end of the process.
If the ban isn’t lifted by the commissioner, Wilson can appeal to a neutral arbitrator — and players have had more success with that route. Nashville forward Austin Watson recently had his 27-game ban for domestic abuse reduced to 18 games by Shyam Das, the same arbitrator who would rule on Wilson’s case — for a hit to the head of Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist, who is on long-term injured reserve after suffering a concussion and shoulder injury on the play — if it gets that far.
In 2016, Dennis Wideman was suspended 20 games for abuse of an official, and a neutral ar- bitrator cut it to 10. The process took a month and a half, though, and Wideman had already served 19 games by the time it was settled.
Wilson’s appeal likely will focus on the length of the punishment rather than the legality of the hit on Sundqvist.
Auston Matthews waited until 18:21 of the third period to reach double digits in goals, beating a sprawling Braden Holtby to round out the scoring against the Caps.
Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen weathered the Caps’ storm in the third, when Josh Leivo potted the winner.
Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson, a repeat offender, skates off after a high hit on the Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist, now on long-term injured reserve, in pre-season action.