WASHINGTON - James Reimer needs lots of action to help him shake the rust of a month off, but his Maple Leafs pals are going above and beyond the call of duty with all these penalties.
And if they aren’t going to kill the majority off — and give a potent team such as the Capitals the extra room — it’s no wonder Reimer still is looking for his first win in three games since returning. The Capitals exposed an old Toronto weakness, one the coaching staff thought it had under control, in Friday’s 4-2 win, all goals with the extra man. It was the most power-play goals against the Leafs since at least 2009-10, when Toronto ranked last in the NHL.
“Any time you give up four power-play goals, you’re not going to win a (bleeping) game,” said centre David Steckel, quickly apologizing for his four-letter faux pas on live TV. “We took some undisciplined penalties, but we should be able to kill ’em.”
Toronto did make a game of it, twice clawing within a goal. But Phil Kessel’s 18th goal of the year was followed by two of the worst self-inflicted wounds, a Colby Armstrong hack with nothing at stake and a late hit by Joey Crabb with Armstrong in the box.
“Unnecessary,” Wilson said of Crabb’s boarding call. “You don’t look to get a hit up the ice, in a situation like that and give a team as deadly as that opportunities. Bad penalties will always bite you in the rear end.”
Slump-ridden Nikolai Kulemin reached 22 games without a goal, but cleared a path for a Cody Franson point shot with six minutes to play to make it 3-2. But Dennis Wideman’s hat trick goal, the first by a defenceman against the Leafs since Blues’ Steve Duchesne in 1994, sealed it. Wideman was telling anyone who would listen afterwards that it hit Brooks Laich’s shin pad on the way in, but the official scorer must have not wanted to ruin a good story.
While snipers Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom aren’t exactly pushovers, the Leafs’ parade to the box in the second and third periods was disturbing. Wilson pointed out that 5-on-5, the Leafs stayed with the home team.
A too-many-men call broke open the early one-goal game, with Wideman’s second. In short order, Armstrong was incarcerated, perhaps too rambunctious after missing 23 games through injury, and Crabb took too much gusto with a hit. That led to Backstrom’s 5-on-3 marker. Reimer reached back to get a paddle on that shot, only to have his stick knob tap it in. Dion Phaneuf, among others, began losing their cool as the night wore on and an accidental one-handed high stick by Crabb with 2:14 to go was the clincher.
In fairness, there were two other awful penalties called on the Leafs, Jake Gardiner for a light rap on Alex Semin’s stick that somehow disintegrated it and the usually well-behaved John-Michael Liles near the end for bumping a forechecker who strayed too close to Reimer.
“They have a great power play, but saying that, they had a couple of lucky bounces,” said Reimer, citing a Phaneuf shot block that ended up on Wideman’s stick.
“You’re a little frustrated (being 0-3), but at the same time I’ve played better each game.”
The Leaf penalty killers, already last in the Eastern Conference, have seemed to save some of their worst efforts for when Reimer is in goal, surrendering two in his home return the other night against New Jersey and 10 overall among the 24 he’s allowed this season.
As a team, the Leafs have lost four of the past five, including their showdown with Boston for first place in the East.
Ovechkin and rival captain Phaneuf traded huge hits in the opening frame, going at each other like a Republican and Democrat on Capitol Hill. Ovechkin, who had nine goals coming into the game, had 20 at the same stage the year he fired 65.
Check out the live chat that ran during the game.