The Washington Capitals, in their NHL home opener, skated circles around the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, preying on a negligent defence and two goaltenders in a 6-4 victory.
Alexander Semin led the way with two goals and an assist, with Alex Ovechkin scoring and adding two assists for Washington (2-0). Brooks Laich and Brendan Morrison each had a goal and an assist, with Mike Knuble also scoring.
The Capitals roared out to a 3-0 lead in the first, leading Toronto to replace veteran Vesa Toskala with Jonas Gustavsson. The Swedish rookie played marginally better in his first-ever regular season appearance, but Washington benefited from several odd-man rushes.
Gustavsson stopped 16 of 19 shots, with Toskala saving only five of eight.
The Washington offensive juggernaut showed a tendency to gamble too much, allowing the Maple Leafs to make the score more respectable than the game otherwise indicated.
Lee Stempniak was the lone scorer for Toronto through a 6-1 deficit after 40 minutes, with Alexei Ponikarovsky, Mikhail Grabovski and Niklas Hagman scoring in the third period.
"You felt like you were in a piranha fish tank," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "We were getting quality scoring chances, without a doubt, but you can't trade chance for chance with a team like that."
Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov finished with 27 saves. Washington has outscored its opponents 10-5 in the first two games while killing off all eight short-handed turns.
Early and often
Ovechkin went to work early, scoring his third goal this season just 1:17 into the game. The Russian superstar took a Nicklas pass in stride and fired a long-range wrist shot under Toskala's left pad.
After Toronto's Viktor Stalberg was stopped in close by Varlamov on a short-handed chance, the Capitals moved up ice and made it 2-0 midway through the period. Knuble potted the rebound of Chris Clark's shot.
Varlamov again made a save that Washington parlayed into a goal late in the stanza. Laich took off on an breakaway and lifted the puck over Toskala.
Stempniak finally got Toronto on the board at 4:23, the beneficiary of a strong passing from Ian White and John Mitchell. The winger finished it off with a nice deke on Varlamov.
The Capitals took just over one minute to get it back. Gustavsson couldn't corral the puck while on his back, with Semin getting multiple whacks before putting it into the back of the net.
Morrison then got behind Toronto defender Mike Komisarek midway through the frame and lifted a backhander over Gustavsson.
The Swedish goalie denied Semin on a breakaway, but the Russian gained revenge with four minutes left in the second when he was allowed to skate in all alone as the trailer on a Washington rush.
Semin had luck on his side as his shot went off Toronto rearguard François Beauchemin and across the goal line.
The Capitals then went on to a third-period performance that did not please coach Bruce Boudreau.
"It was a great start, but we have to learn how to win 6-1 when we're in that position, not try to win 9-1. Hopefully it was a cheap lesson for us," said Boudreau. "Our guys are bummed out because of it, because they want to take pride in their defence."
Defenceman Jeff Finger began Toronto's mini-rally in the third by gaining control of the Washington zone and taking a shot that Ponikarovsky followed up for a goal.
Just over three minutes later, Ponikarovsky drew an assist when Grabovski redirected a shot past Varlamov.
Hagman's goal came with just over two minutes left, but the Leafs could get no closer with Gustavsson on the bench. Toronto's Tomas Kaberle made a good defensive play to deny Ovechkin an empty-net goal.
Toronto (0-1-1) returns to action at home against Ottawa on Tuesday.