By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs escaped Florida with a split in their games between the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Travelling north to Washington to take on the Capitals on Tuesday night, they skated away with a 4-1 win to improve their early season record to 4-2.
For the second game in a row, the best player on the ice was 25-year-old Joseph Woll. After coming in in relief for Ilya Samsonov and stopping all 27 shots he faced allowing the Maple Leafs to gain a 4-3 comeback win in Tampa Bay, Woll stopped 36 of the 37 shots he faced in this game. He’s now stopped the first 54 shots he faced over these two games, before giving up the only goal he would allow in either game.
A wide-open Alex Ovechkin finally scored this season, when he deflected a pass from John Carlson on the power play behind Woll late in the second period.
Over the two games, Woll stopped 63 of the 64 shots he faced. According to Naturalstattrick.com 32 (exactly half) of those 64 shots were High-Danger Scoring Chances. In the three games Woll has played this season, he has a 0.957 Save Percentage and a 1.44 Goals-Against-Average. Over the past three seasons, Woll has played in 14 regular season games for the Maple Leafs and has a record of 11-3. His Save Percentage over those 14 games is 0.931 and his Goals-Against-Average is 2.19.
Woll should have also been awarded an assist in the game but wasn’t. More on that later.
Morgan Rielly scored his first goal of the season to open the scoring in the game. He took a pass from Timothy Liljegren and fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that squeaked between Capitals goalie Darcy Kuemper’s right arm and body into the net.
Rielly got a second point in the game when he received a pass from Tyler Bertuzzi at the right point and fired a wrist shot/pass that John Tavares deflected past Kuemper. That goal gave the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead early in the second period.
Rielly now has five points (one goal and four assists) in the Maple Leafs’ first six games.
After scoring six goals in his first two games Matthews had been held off the scoresheet the next three games. He ended that drought with his first assist of the season when he fired a 120-foot stretch pass to William Nylander at the Washington blueline from deep in the Toronto zone. Nylander made no mistake and scored on the play.
Matthews now has eight points on the season, seven goals, and one assist.
After Nylander received that stretch pass from Matthews, he broke in from the right side of the Capitals’ zone and roofed the puck from tight in front of Kuemper. It was not an easy shot because Washington defenseman Nick Jensen was draped all over him. That was Nylander’s fifth goal to go along with five assists giving him ten points in six games.
The assist that Woll should have gotten in the game was on this goal. What started the play was the Capitals’ Jensen flipping a puck high into the air from center ice that took a funny hop in front of Woll. Woll kicked the puck forward with his right pad straight to Matthews. I have no idea why he was not awarded an assist on the play.
Like his linemate Nylander, Tavares has ten points in his first six games. The 2-0 goal he scored in the game was his third goal to go along with seven assists.
Despite the score being onesided in the Maple Leafs’ favour, the game sure wasn’t. According to Naturalstattrick.com Washington had 73% of the Expected Goals and 63% of the High-Danger Scoring Chances. They outshot the Maple Leafs in all three periods,17-5 in the first, 12-9 in the second, and 8-3 in the third period. If not for Woll’s outstanding play, this game could have had a completely different outcome.
Ovechkin came into this game goalless in four games. With him chasing Wayne Gretzy’s record you knew he was going to be hungry. Despite that, the skaters in front of Woll did little to help prevent Ovechkin from getting scoring chances. Of the 37 shots the Capitals fired at Woll, Ovechkin had a whopping 14 of them. As I wrote earlier, Ovechkin did score on a power play late in the first period to get his first goal of the season. He now sits 71 goals behind Gretzky for the record.
There was a scary incident just prior to the Ovechkin goal. Earlier on the same power play, Jake McCabe took a 98-mile-an-hour one-time slapshot from Evgeny Kuznetsov off the side of the head. McCabe dropped to the ice immediately. Surprisingly, and to the relief of everyone, he got up under his own power and skated to the bench. Replays showed the shot glanced off the side of McCabe’s helmet. Luckily he did not take the full force of the shot straight on.
After their game in Washington, the Maple Leafs now take a swing west and travel to Dallas. They take on the 4-0-1 Stars on Thursday night. We don’t yet know who the starting goaltender will be for the Maple Leafs. I was surprised when head coach Sheldon Keefe was not asked that question during the postgame press conference.
The Maple Leafs have three more games left to close out the month of October. After the Dallas game, they move on to Nashville to take on the Predators. They then close out the month next Tuesday at home versus the visiting Los Angeles Kings.
If the Maple Leafs win just one of those three games they will come out of October with a winning record for the first time in three seasons.