Maple Leafs report cards: Toronto denies Alex Ovechkin but not Erik Gustafsson


The Washington Capitals were ready to watch history being made at Capitol One Arena. Balloons were pumped, objects were ready to be thrown, and the crowd went wild as Erik Gustafsson became the fifth Swedish defenceman in NHL history to score a hat trick.

Although it wasn’t the history-making moment many expected, Gustafsson’s three goals led the way to a blue line strike from Washington as four of their five goals came from defencemen. The Leafs, on the other hand, had only one of their line contribute offensively while the rest helped the Capitals generate and capitalize on scoring chances.

This is only the team’s second-straight regulation loss, however, a lot of it didn’t look right. And a lot of players who have been successful in the last month, didn’t look right either.

Player reports


The third line

The Alex Kerfoot-David KämpfPierre Engvall line was arguably the best line overall for the Leafs tonight. Their shifts set the tone for the team and sparked them after a sluggish start and it comes down to patience and board work. Engvall isn’t a powerhouse by any means, but his timing, willingness to shoot and confidence to skate with the puck through the zones has improved. Kerfoot is adding more points to his total and is getting in better spots for scoring chances while being an irritant along the wall, especially behind the net.

Now Kämpf was the standout. He brings the power and pressure to the trio whether it’s taking dashes towards the net or playing heavy on the opposition in the corners and shielding the puck for short passes.


Auston Matthews

These are the best kinds of Matthews games to watch. He quietly does a number of good things in the offensive zone and steadily begins to make more and more impactful plays until he scores one himself. His playmaking this season has been stellar and he gave William Nylander, in particular, a lot of great passes in stride. He also effectively distributed the puck and reset to open himself for coverage or other looks.

His goal was a 200-foot effort starting with a backcheck to break up a play in the defensive zone before heading the other way going in one-on-four against the Capitals and burying the shot.


William Nylander 

Nylander has reached a vintage Matthews-like pace with his goal-scoring. It’s getting to the point where it’s safe to assume he has at least one goal in him every game. Despite Charlie Lindgren looking like a unit early, Nylander’s long-slot shot beat him through the body and he now has 18 on the year, two away from reaching 20 for the fifth time in his career.

Conor Timmins

Another game and another assist for Timmins who was so noticeable out there that Alex Ovechkin wanted him on the team.

One of the things I’ve appreciated the most from Timmins is confidence in stretch plays. He created a scoring chance for Marner off a rebound in the first while sending a clean pass to Matthews through the neutral zone for his goal. Although the Capitals scored first via Gustafsson, it would’ve been earlier had Timmins not disrupted that chance for Conor Sheary.

T.J. Brodie 

Along with Timmins, Brodie was the only defenceman who wasn’t a dash tonight. I liked his one-on-one defence down low as well as his ability to skate up and down with the puck along the wall in the offensive zone. The Leafs have been getting a lot of hemming shifts while getting time to fully change lines in between and plays like that allow it to happen.


Denis Malgin

Although there hasn’t been much production to show for it, I like what Malgin brings to the second line. He has the speed and tenacity to retrieve the puck in the corners and is elusive enough to skate through the opposition for scoring chances.


Michael Bunting 

Bunting didn’t get many chances to show off the Leafs’ new five-forward power-play formation. Additionally, his 10-game point streak came to an end though he had two tap-in chances to extend it that he missed.

Zach Aston-Reese

Aston-Reese took and received a lot of hits out there to make plays. And personally, I’ve always been a fan of the, ‘I’m getting knocked down but I’m still going to get this pass across’ play.

Joey Anderson

As a young player with skill playing in a depth role, Anderson does a good job being in the right spots as an outlet for passes or to jump on pucks for shots on goal.

Pontus Holmberg

Good blocks deep in the defensive zone and Holmberg isn’t hesitating to jump and attack the front of the net.

Justin Holl

Luckily nothing came out of that hard hit in the corner. The stick check on the penalty kill is happening on the tail end of a 5-2 loss, but it keeps Ovechkin off the goal sheet and it did allow Kerfoot to get a decent short-handed chance the other way.


Mitch Marner 

It wasn’t the buzziest night for Marner after blocking that shot in the opening frame. Missing the empty-net rebound chance was one thing but the turnovers and misplays started to pile up. The five-forward power-play experiment ended after Marner couldn’t clear the puck from the Capitals which led to a two-on-one chance against.

Additionally, another long pass that was too far for Malgin to get wound up getting picked off in the neutral zone which Evgeny Kuznetsov transitioned into Gustafsson’s second of the night.

Mark Giordano 

Giordano had two goals come directly off of his stick. The first was more poor luck than an error as Giordano partially deflected Trevor van Riemsdyk’s shot on its way in passed Ilya Samsonov. The second play starts with Giordano’s bank attempt off the boards getting picked up by Garnet Hathaway. Giordano had another chance to move the puck out of danger but John Carlson makes contact with him and he loses the puck to the eventual goal scorer.

Rasmus Sandin 

It was a rollercoaster night of good and bad moments for Sandin. Turnovers off the forecheck, poor gaps and too much puck-watching to leave complete sides of the defensive zone open until it’s too late. Nevertheless and whether intentional or not, he did save a goal in the second with his shoulder.

Timothy Liljegren

Liljegren led all defencemen with three shots on net and it really helped during those shifts where the Leafs drove the pressure up in the neutral zone. However, the puck-watching bug got him too. Whether it’s hyper fixation on the puck carriers or not thinking passes through or going to get across, there were far too many moments where Liljegren was closer to the middle of the slot instead of keeping eyes on the open player coming down the lane.


Ilya Samsonov

Five goals on 23 shots definitely wasn’t the revenge game Samsonov had in mind, it’s also not the best way to end a shootout streak. The Leafs did Samsonov no favours on any of the goals, however, the Capitals were able to find a number of holes and convert on lucky bounces. Ironically enough, it could’ve been a lot worse. Samsonov’s clutch save at the end of the first period might have retired the five-forward power play for good while he had two toe saves (one on either side) in the second and third frames.


John Tavares 

This has been one of Tavares’ most underwhelming games of the season. He had his chances on the power play and in the second period, though I felt he held on to the puck too long, there wasn’t much from the captain aside from that. His performance in the faceoff circle was particularly surprising finishing the night at 25 percent and I’m still puzzled by the decision to look Malgin off who was alone in front to send a pass to the point that was picked off and turned over.

Game Score

Final grade: C-

It’s a shame that a game where the Leafs aren’t the sharpest defensively correlates with a game where the goaltending isn’t matching the previous standard.

The Leafs out-chanced and outshot the Capitals, the problem was Lindgren making a number of impressive stops along the way. The goals the Capitals scored weren’t all high-grade opportunities, though the Leafs made it easy for them to get close to the net and make cross-ice passes. It also doesn’t help that the second line was barely noticeable which is something we haven’t seen in a while.

You’re going to run into a hot goaltender here and there throughout a season, what you can’t do is make it easy for the opposition to score when you do. The Leafs unfortunately made it easy.

What’s next for the Leafs? 

The road trip is over and the Leafs are back at home Tuesday night (7:00 p.m. on TSN4) against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

(Top photo: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)


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