Until Thursday night, watching the Leafs was very predictable. They’d spot their opponent a couple of goals then storm the Bastille with a comeback that would fall just short. Essentially, they were playing the same game every night against a different foe.
But in Raleigh, the script was completely different. The Leafs sprinted to a 3-0 lead, handed it back then snatched a sure victory with a last-minute goal only to give it back with two seconds left and lose in a shootout.
So now the only consistency in the Leafs’ game is the result. They have long periods of each game where they dominate and get nothing out of it. Parts of each game are very good, but until they play the whole game it’s simply going to be Groundhog Day.
The Capitals meantime just went 4-2 in six games without Alex Ovechkin and the day he returned from injury they moved into first place in the Eastern Conference. They didn’t fall apart without their meal ticket.
Now, they didn’t play the 2002 Red Wings during that stretch, posting wins against the Panthers twice, and the Islanders and Wild, but they still showed a depth they’re seldom given credit for and probably built a little confidence too.
Let’s not kid around. Ovechkin is the Caps’ best player by a mile, but at least he’s got a supporting cast that may be good enough for Washington to win the East and perhaps even a Cup.
On the hot stove:
The Leafs need somebody to step up at centre ice. The four regular centres: Matt Stajan, John Mitchell, Mikhail Grabovski and Rickard Wallin have 26 assists total.
Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and Brendan Morrison have 28 between them. In fact there are a lot of teams whose top two centres have more assists than all of the Leafs’ pivots. Moving Phil Kessel to centre, while interesting and plausible, won’t make any difference because he’s a scorer - a one-shot player, who is probably better suited to the wing.
ISO camera on:
Number 8 all night long.
Alex Ovechkin has thankfully returned in time for an appearance in Canadian prime time. In his first night back from an upper body injury, he took seven shots and had seven hits in a win in New York. Bruce Boudreau played Ovechkin up front with a man advantage, so he wouldn’t have to shoot as much and risk aggravating the injury. That lasted one power play.
By the second one, he was back on the point and scored with a slap shot. Later, on a third power play, he moved back up front and played the full two minutes. Apparently he’s healthy and kept himself in shape while he sat out for two weeks.
As the Leafs search for a big number one centre, have you noticed who’s in the middle on Atlanta’s number one line? Former Leaf winger Nik Antropov has moved back to centre and has 16 assists playing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk.
Antropov had been a centre before he played with Mats Sundin, but would Antropov be able to perform like that in the centre of the hockey universe under the spotlight?
Mike Green was the NHL's highest scoring defenceman last season with 31 goals, but isn’t scoring at the same pace (although not for lack of chances).
Green through 20 games:
2008-09: 8 g, 11 a, 19 pts, +10, 65
2009-10: 3g, 17 a, 20 pts, +3, 62
In the absence of Ovechkin, Tomas Fleischmann was the Caps leading scorer with five goals and two assists in six games.
From the stat pack:
Ovechkin seldom lets us down when he visits Canada. He’s scored a goal for each of the eight games he’s played in Toronto and his numbers overall in Canada are 18-14-32 in 27 games.
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