Early mea­sur­ing stick goes in Toronto’s fa­vor

Matthews lifts Leafs in clash of two ex­pected Stan­ley Cup con­tenders

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Toronto Maple Leafs cen­ter Aus­ton Matthews was lurk­ing be­side the right post when the puck took a bounce in the crease and landed on his stick. He turned and flicked it across the goal line, pump­ing both fists as he bent at the waist and roared. The red goal light flashed, and the night was of­fi­cially the Maple Leafs’.

The night had been an en­ter­tain­ing chess match be­tween two teams ex­pected to be among the NHL’s best this sea­son. On one bench, the de­fend­ing Stan­ley Cup cham­pion Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals. On the other, the Maple Leafs, a trendy pick to claim that ti­tle this sea­son. It came down to the third pe­riod, where Toronto was bet­ter and Wash­ing­ton got sloppy, and so the Maple Leafs won Satur­day night’s early-sea­son mea­sur­ing-stick game, 4-2, as the Cap­i­tals lost a sec­ond game in a row.

“It was a pretty evenly matched game,” Wash­ing­ton goal­tender Braden Holtby said. “They seemed to get a few breaks, and we kind of didn’t seem to get those – a bunch of open nets that just didn’t seem to go our way. But there are still ar­eas there that I think we’d like to just keep im­prov­ing at. It was a good test ob­vi­ously, but we know we have more.”

Af­ter for­ward Par Lind­holm tipped in the game-ty­ing goal with 1:07 left in the sec­ond pe­riod, Toronto con­trolled play to start the third. De­fense­man Michal Kempny clipped cen­ter John Tavares with a high stick, giv­ing the Maple Leafs a power play. Forty-one sec­onds later, Josh Leivo gave Toronto its first lead. Matthews de­liv­ered the fi­nal cush­ion with less than two min­utes left in the game.

“The first 10 min­utes of third pe­riod, we kind of sloppy a lit­tle bit,” cen­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “I don’t know why we [made] those mis­takes, but then they got that goal.”

This was ex­pected to be a high­scor­ing af­fair; Toronto had scored 25 goals in its first five games, and Wash­ing­ton had 18 goals in its first three be­fore get­ting shut out by the New Jer­sey Dev­ils two nights ago. On the first shift of the game, cap­tain Alex Ovechkin col­lected the puck in the Cap­i­tals’ de­fen­sive zone and flung it up the ice, where Kuznetsov got it for a two-on-one with Chan­dler Stephen­son. Maple Leafs goal­tender Fred­erik An­der­sen stopped Kuznetsov’s shot, but Stephen­son knocked in the re­bound to lift the Cap­i­tals to a 1-0 lead just 18 sec­onds in.

With right wing Tom Wil­son sus­pended for the sea­son’s first 20 games, pend­ing an ap­peal, Wash­ing­ton has had to re­place his pres­ence on the top line. Brett Con­nolly played there for the first four games, but with his team com­ing off a 6-0 loss Thurs­day, coach Todd Reirden de­cided to make a change. He pro­moted Stephen­son to the right side of Kuznetsov and Ovechkin the only other time the trio had played to­gether was in the clinch­ing Game 6 win against the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins in the sec­ond round of last sea­son’s play­offs.

“Ob­vi­ously, the start was great, but they did a num­ber of good things dur­ing the game as well,” Reirden said. “So, I thought they ac­com­plished a lot. I thought he brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go af­ter their de­fense a lit­tle bit and force some turnovers. Kuznetsov and Ovi were able to at least get some op­por­tu­ni­ties from that. So I think it’s im­por­tant to have him in that sit­u­a­tion and it was good to see to him. We’ll con­tinue to try to put to­gether four lines that give us the best chance.”

The game set­tled into a tightcheck­ing rhythm af­ter Stephen­son’s goal, but Toronto broke through for its first goal when Kasperi Ka­pa­nen de­flected Ron Hain­sey’s point shot early in the sec­ond pe­riod. Sixty-nine sec­onds later, Wash­ing­ton was back up. The Cap­i­tals were awarded a power play when Tavares tripped Ovechkin, and af­ter Kuznetsov col­lected a pass from Nick­las Back­strom be­hind the goal line, he stick­han­dled up to the net, keep­ing his eyes on for­ward T.J. Oshie in the slot. With­out look­ing at the net, Kuznetsov placed a shot over an un­sus­pect­ing An­der­sen’s shoul­der.

SUS­PEN­SION AP­PEAL: Wil­son will have his ap­peal hear­ing with NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman on Thurs­day in New York City, ac­cord­ing to the NHL Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. Wil­son is serv­ing a 20-game sus­pen­sion from the league’s De­part­ment of Player Safety for an il­le­gal check to the head of St. Louis for­ward Oskar Sundqvist.

The NHL Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion filed for an ap­peal on Wil­son’s be­half last Fri­day, and Bettman’s rul­ing won’t nec­es­sar­ily sig­nal the end of the process. If Bettman does not lift the ban, Wil­son can then choose to 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 if it gets that far.

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