The Washington Capitals found a cure for their offensive stagnation on Monday night - the Toronto Maple Leaf defense. Five Caps players got their first goals of the season to lead Washington to a 7-1 thrashing of the Leafs at the Air Canada Center. Boyd Gordon, Jeff Schultz, Matt Bradley, Matt Pettinger and Brian Sutherby all found the back of the net for the first time this year. Alex Ovechkin rounded out the scoring with his seventh and eighth goals of the season, and Michael Nylander chipped in three assists to keep his five game point streak intact.
Toronto has now allowed 51 goals - more than any other team in the National Hockey League.
The game was never really in doubt as Washington scored on three of their first five shots. Just over three minutes into the first period, the Leaf defense coughed up the puck in their own zone. Bradley picked up the loose puck and fired it in the direction of Gordon, who deflected it past goaltender Vesa Toskala.
The joy for Caps fans was short-lived though, as Toronto fired right back. Alexei Ponikarovsky capitalized on a beautiful pass from Mats Sundin to even the game at 1-1 just thirty seconds after Gordon's goal. It was the third consecutive game that Washington's opposition has scored on their first shot of the game; but it would be the only time that Toronto managed to beat Olie Kolzig, as the goaltender turned away the other 32 shots that he faced.
The Caps second goal of the game, came as an indirect result of a great give-and-go between Kozlov and Nylander on the power play. The two cycled the puck out of the corner beautifully, but Kozlov slammed his shot just wide. Pettinger was standing at the side of the net when it fortuitously bounced off the back boards and right on to his stick; he slapped it into the yawning goal to put the Caps up 2-1 just over five minutes in, and the shootout was on.
Ovechkin made it 3-1 at 11:57 of the first, with a wicked snipe from the left circle. Ovechkin picked up a draw won by Kozlov in the Leafs' zone, and fired it past Toskala for Washington's third goal on just five shots.
Less than two minutes later, Nylander hit a trailing Jeff Schultz in the slot and the big defenseman let a howitzer go from the slot that just caught the inside of the right post. The Caps had a 4-1 lead, Schultz had his first career NHL goal, and Washington chased Leaf goaltender Toskala from the game.
Considering that the Capitals have failed to score more than four goals in seventeen of their last eighteen contests, putting up four in the first period was a veritable plethora of offense. Washington coasted to the win from there.
Bradley made it 5-1 in the second on a short-handed tally. Brooks Laich was serving a penalty for holding when Bradley picked up another Leaf turnover in the neutral zone, and skated in on net. He fired the puck through the five-hole on Toskala's replacement Andrew Raycroft, and yet another Capital removed the goose egg from his goal column.
Two minutes later with Washington on a power play, Brian Pothier feathered a pass to Ovechkin in the high slot and the Russian superstar hammered a one-timer on net. The puck deflected off of Leaf defenseman Andy Wozniewski and past goaltender Raycroft, and it was 6-1 Capitals. Ovechkin had his second of the evening and Washington had their second power play goal of the night.
Brian Sutherby closed out the scoring for Washington at 6:17 of the third period. Tomas Fleischmann caused yet another Leaf giveaway in their own zone, and Bradley hit a wide open Sutherby streaking for the Leaf goal. 'Suds' made a move to his forehand and beat Raycroft who was deep in his net. To the chagrin of the Leaf fans still in attendance at the ACC, and surely to the delight of Caps coach Glen Hanlon, the public address announcer belted out, "... his first of the season," for the fifth and final time of the evening.
It was a tremendous road effort for the Caps, especially considering that they were without the services of three of their top players. Alexander Semin (ankle), Chris Clark (lacerated ear), and Tom Poti (groin) were all unavailable.
With the win, Washington moved to 5-6 (10 points) on the season, and Toronto subsequently fell to 5-5-3 (13 points). They sit 11th and 5th respectively in the Eastern Conference and both teams are in third in their respective divisions.
Washington faces off against the New York Rangers on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, before returning home to the Verizon Center on Friday to face the Philadelphia Flyers. Tickets are still available.