Caps expose problems for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- If only a goaltending controversy was the lone problem with the Maple Leafs two games into their National Hockey League schedule.

No one expected a well-oiled machine to break from the starting line, but two defeats, 10 goals against, turnovers, defensive coverage blunders and other niggling issues are eating into the training camp optimism.

Granted, playing the Capitals has that effect on some teams, as Washington chewed through Vesa Toskala with three goals on eight first-period shots and put three more past Jonas Gustavsson in his debut, an eventual 6-4 loss. But Gustavsson's perfect third period and Toskala's limp glove hand on Alex Ovechkin's stoppable shot 1:17 into the game would seem to give the new guy the inside track Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators.

"We'll watch the tape, I don't have to make a decision tonight," said coach Ron Wilson, trying in vain to head off a fan debate on the issue and keep a promise to let Toskala get his job back.

At the same time, he didn't want The Monster getting criticized for failure in allowing three goals, one off a break-away, another glancing in off hard-luck newcomer Francois Beauchemin's skate.

"You guys try to build monuments to people before they've ever accomplished anything," Wilson chided the media.

"We didn't do a good job in front of Vesa and it gave us a chance to give Jonas a little bit of experience in a tough building ... against maybe the best offensive team. It was a challenge and he got the job done, made four or five great saves."

Gustavsson, who had added to his star billing by not allowing a goal in three exhibition periods, probably took a deep and satisfying breath after snagging his first NHL puck, an Ovechkin drop pass to Nicklas Backstrom. His first goal allowed came on a second rebound by Alex Semin.

"I think I did all right," Gustavsson said. "Of course, you don't want to allow three in your first period, you want to win and have a good memory. But it was fun."

A contrite Toskala admitted he should have had the first one, hardly one of Ovechkin's famous howitzers, a play that developed from loose coverage by Beauchemin and partner Luke Schenn. Toskala had allowed seven goals on 24 shots in his last exhibition game and now seven on 35 including the 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

With 18,277 red-clad fans at the Verizon Center itching to go nuts after a division banner raising, Toskala's gaffe lit the fuse, while deafening ears and damaging egos on the Leafs' bench.

Wilson said many of the new players, particularly the defencemen, aren't on the same page as the forwards when they have the puck.

"Some of our guys have to lighten up on their stick and look around and stop the tunnel vision that it looks like we're playing with right now," Wilson said.

Beauchemin now is a minus-four in two games.

"Four breakaways we gave up (last night) is unacceptable," he said.

"We have to be a lot better than this, I have to be a lot better."

The Leafs had great scoring chances early on and fed off Gustavsson in the third to make a game of it.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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