Any time a team can harness Alex Ovechkin and his teammates enough to enjoy a victory, plenty of players deserve applause.
In the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs' 6-3 victory over Ovechkin and the league-leading Washington Capitals at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, the accolades went to Toronto centre Matt Stajan and goalie Vesa Toskala. Stajan scored twice and Toskala turned in his best effort of the season with 34 saves.
Although Maple Leafs centre Wayne Primeau and his band of diligent checkers didn't enjoy their best game since Toronto coach Ron Wilson formulated his shutdown five several games ago, they hunkered down enough to make sure the Leafs won their third in a row at home.
"They didn't look very good against that [Ovechkin] line tonight," Wilson said. "That's why in the third period, if you noticed, it was the Stajan line against those guys, and that line never got a chance after that."
Actually, Primeau and linemates Lee Stempniak and Nikolai Kulemin were solid against Washington's high-flying trio of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin.
The checking line was not on the ice when Ovechkin scored early on the power play because of a delay-of-game penalty to Toskala that, according to Wilson, referee Dan O'Halloran later admitted was a mistake.
They also weren't on the ice when Backstrom scored a few shifts later. But they were caught when Backstrom scored his second of the game to tie the score midway through the second period.
"That's a good line," Primeau said, in an understatement. "It's hard to keep them completely off the score sheet. You have to make sure you have a guy high [in the offensive zone] at all times because they always have a guy floating, ready to go the other way.
"They were able to get a couple, but for the most part we felt we did a pretty good job."
The 33-year-old Primeau must have frustrated Ovechkin enough because at one point in the second period, Ovechkin appeared bang knees with Primeau. The Toronto centre was upset and went after his opponent, but afterward refused to label Ovechkin's hit dirty.
This was Primeau's 25th game of the season. Last year, he was limited to only 24 with the Calgary Flames when he took a Dion Phaneuf slapshot off his left ankle in practice. The initial ailment was misdiagnosed and he wound up undergoing season-ending surgery. As a result, Primeau only recently has found the form he displayed in long and successful playoff runs earlier in his career with the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.
"The last 12-15 games I've got my legs and feel good again," he said.
Primeau played a season-high 18 minutes and two seconds against the Capitals. With his line and the defence pairing of Ian White and Francois Beauchemin, the Leafs have been much better at home because Wilson has them lined up against the other team's top offensive players.
Toronto defenceman Luke Schenn was a healthy scratch for the first time in his two seasons with the Maple Leafs.
"We have high hopes for Luke, but we think he's made a lot of mental mistakes lately," said Wilson. "We wanted to simply hit the reset button for him. I think I have to handle Luke exactly the same way I handle lots of our other defencemen. So he's got some things he has to work on. We haven't had that much opportunity to practise in the last 10 days."