TEAM PAYS TRIBUTE TO LAICH TO ROUSING STANDING OVATION
Less than 72 hours after Brooks Laich was shipped off to Toronto, the hometown fans at Verizon Center on Wednesday night warmly welcomed their adopted hometown son back with open arms, cheering during his first-period tribute video that aired on the jumbotron and even when his name was briefly on the big screen as part of the Maple Leafs’ starting lineup.
On the ice, however, Laich’s return to the nation’s capital was one of decidedly less positivity for his new team. Two quick goals from the Capitals in the first paved the way for a 3-2 Washington win, in spite of a lackluster overall performance for a lot of the contest from the hosts’ standpoint.
Through surviving a trio of penalty calls in the first period, the Capitals put themselves into a position to score a rare first goal, and they did just that with 1:45 left in the period. A T.J. Oshie drop pass went to the stick of Taylor Chorney, and Chorney scored his first goal as a Capital as he went glove-side high on Toronto netminder Jonathan Bernier.
Before Chorney’s marker could even be announced, Alex Ovechkin scored his 41st of the season, a one-timer from “his office” at the left circle, and Washington had a 2-0 lead before the excitement of the first goal wound down.
Less than two minutes into the second, Nikita Soshnikov, one of three Maple Leafs who made their NHL debuts on Monday night, scored his first NHL goal with a missile past Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) to cut the deficit in half. Colin Greening tied it in the third after a disallowed Nazem Kadri goal, and it appeared that an eventual Leafs comeback was all but inevitable.
But Matt Niskanen sent a wrist shot past a heavily-screened Bernier at 9:31 of the third on the power play, after Karl Alzner was heavily boarded by Soshkinov.
The win was especially memorable for Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who passed Ron Wilson — coincidentally, the former bench boss in both Washington and Toronto — for ninth on the NHL’s all-time coaching wins list.
“It feels awkward. Ron’s sort of in my era so it’s not as awkward [with him] … I remember stepping on the bench in Nashville my first year, I just wanted to step behind it once. It goes by quick,” Trotz said.
MEMORABLE RETURN FOR LAICH
Laich had just one shot attempt all night, and was well-received at the game’s first media timeout, when his team-produced tribute video was played for the fans in attendance.
Featuring some of Laich’s highlight reel goals as well as a shot of him fist-pumping from the 2010 edition of 24/7, the soundtrack to the video, Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These”, was all but drowned out by the playoff-level volume of cheers.
“I’m very thankful for the organization, that they would do that,” Laich said. “The game wasn’t as awkward or weird as I thought it was going to be. I thought we played a heck of a game.
“Not a whole lot of [chirps]. Some of the guys said hi, but I kind of wanted to park that.”
Resigning himself to watching the latter portion of it after missing the start, Laich acknowledged the ovation by giving back a round of applause of his own. The Capitals’ bench could be seen tapping their sticks on the boards in front of them, in a strong show of respect for the man who had been, and perhaps still is, in a class of his own as far as representatives of hockey in this city are concerned.
- It was Oshie’s fifth career three-assist game and his first since March 1, 2015 at Vancouver.
- Nicklas Backstrom extended his assist streak to four games and has tallied 28 points in his last 27 games. It marked his eighth multi-assist game of the season.
- Ovechkin scored a goal and has earned 16 points in his last 13 games. In addition, he has scored 20 goals in his last 23 games.
- Marcus Johansson played in his 400th NHL/Capitals game. Johansson has registered 222 points in 400 career games and is the 39th player in franchise history to play 400 games with Washington.
- Daniel Winnik recorded three hits in his Capitals debut.
- Mike Weber led all skaters in blocked shots with five.
- The Capitals improved to 18-3-1 in back-to-back games this season, outscoring opponents 77-49.
NEXT GAME: Caps host the New York Rangers on Friday night at 7 p.m.