Marcus Johansson scored 32 seconds into the game and the Washington Capitals never looked back, building a 4-0 lead en route to a 4-2 victory over the massively slumping Toronto Maple Leafs before 19,577 at Air Canada Center, celebrating the 50th anniversary of their 1962 championship squad.
The Caps won back-to-back games on consecutive nights for only the second time this season.
After the dust settled around the NHL slate last night, the Caps found themselves in ninth place in the conference, one point behind Florida for first place in the Southeast Division (and the third seed in the conference) and Winnipeg for the eighth seed. Florida won and Winnipeg lost — both in shootouts — Saturday night.
One night after the Caps got an early lead and held on at home against Montreal, they followed the same script against another Canadian team on the road. They pounced early on Toronto, scoring twice in the first four minutes, sending the Leafs to their eighth loss in their last ten games and turning a capacity crowd against their own team.
Just 32 seconds in, Johansson corralled a loose puck at the top of the left-wing circle after Alex Ovechkin whiffed on a shot, skated behind the Leafs goal unmolested, and wrapped the puck inside the slow-reacting James Reimer (32 saves) for his 12th goal of the season. A mere 3:14 later, Alexander Semin picked the pocket of defenseman Luke Schenn and embarrassed Reimer from the slot, extending the Caps lead to 2-0.
Reimer was mercilessly booed by the home crowd, prompting Toronto coach Ron Wilson to take a time-out to get his team focused again. It did not help much.
Jeff Halpern (4) and Keith Aucoin (1) added goals in the second period for the Caps, effectively ending the competitive portion of the evening.
Michal Neuvirth was stellar in goal, making 28 saves, including the following against Carl Gunnarson when the lead was 3-0 and the Leafs about to go on a power play.
It was the second solid outing in a row for Neuvirth, who a mere two weeks ago was benched in the second of back-to-back games in favor of Braden Holtby, a last-minute call-up from AHL Hershey when Tomas Vokoun was too ill to play.
The Capitals are off until Tuesday night when they host the New York Islanders, but GM George McPhee figures to be a very busy man. With the NHL trade deadline Monday at 3:00 pm, the man once known as “The Undertaker” has the unenviable task of finding the Capitals some assistance for their stretch run. These two wins will probably be momentum for McPhee to try to add a player or two to bolster the Caps attack as they try to resurrect their season and qualify for the playoffs.
The Caps could use help at center, secondary scoring, and maybe a tough defenseman willing to stand up for this goalie. These types of players don’t necessarily grow on trees, though. Also, to make any additions, McPhee will have to make some tough decisions. The Caps are hard up against the salary cap, and will either have to put Nicklas Backstrom on the LTIR, ending his regular season, or trade away veterans with expiring or expensive contracts.
For now, all the Caps players (and fans) can do is come home, get some rest, and wait until the 3:00 pm deadline on Monday passes after two solid wins to get everyone on the team feeling better about themselves. Whether McPhee is able to add a significant piece for the playoff drive — or just trim the fat around the edges of the roster — is up in the air. But at the very least, the results of the last two nights will have given McPhee the impetus to be a buyer again.
GAME NOTES: Mike Knuble, Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine were healthy scratches for the second night in a row.
Aucoin had an assist to go along with his goal, his first NHL marker since 2009. Ovechkin had two assists.
The Caps were 0-for-1 on the power play, and killed all four Toronto extra-man attempts.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.