There are two dents on one of the double doors in the hallway from the visitors’ dressing room to the ice that bear mute evidence of the trouble the Verizon Center has given the Toronto Maple Leafs over the years.
They were put there almost 12 years ago to the day, on Feb. 2, 2001, by goaltender Curtis Joseph after he and the Maple Leafs were lit up by Peter Bondra and the Washington Capitals. Bondra celebrated a contract extension he signed that afternoon by scoring three goals on Joseph, who smashed the door with his stick after the loss.
The place is still unfriendly to the Maple Leafs, who went into Tuesday’s game without a win at the Verizon Center since Dec. 6, 2010. But this time, perhaps taking some inspiration from those dents on the doors, the Leafs broke a five-game losing streak in Washington with a solid effort against the listless Capitals in a 3-2 win.
The Capitals made it a little too easy for the Leafs, making big mistakes, committing turnovers and losing puck battles to the visitors. It was as if the hosts were the ones playing the second of back-to-back, home-and-road games rather than the Leafs, who shook off a 4-1 loss at the Air Canada Centre on Monday to raise their record to .500 at 5-5.
Despite much talk from the Capitals that they are finally getting the hang of new head coach Adam Oates’s system, there was little evidence of that Tuesday night. The sellout crowd of 18,506 grew increasingly unhappy as the Caps’ play deteriorated through the second period and sent them to the dressing room with a chorus of boos at the intermission.
Leaf winger Phil Kessel may still be looking for his first goal of the season, the drought hitting 10 games Tuesday night, but as long as linemate James van Riemsdyk has a hot hand it may not matter. Van Riemsdyk scored twice, while Kessel had two assists, one of them on a rare goal by the Leafs defence. Van Riemsdyk, who has six goals in 10 games, scored three of them against the Caps in the last six days.
A few hours before the game, Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle talked about the importance of the defencemen just getting their shots through to the net in order to get some scoring from the back end. Leafs defenceman Korbinian Holzer, playing in his second game since being called up from the farm team on Monday, was listening. He scored his first NHL goal midway through the second period when his shot from the point hit a Capitals forward, dipped and handcuffed goaltender Michal Neuvirth to put the Leafs ahead 3-1. It was just the third goal from a Leafs defenceman this season.
While the Leafs did look like a tired team at times, particularly at the start of the second period when they were standing still, the Caps continually handed them opportunities to stay in control of the game. When they weren’t turning the puck over at either blue line, the Caps were making the kinds of mistakes that give coaches ulcers.
The worst miscue came halfway through the first period when Neuvirth and defenceman Tom Poti got their wires crossed. Neuvirth left the puck for Poti behind his net but failed to notice van Riemsdyk charging down the ice. Then Poti hesitated in reaching for the puck, which allowed van Riemsdyk just enough time to swoop in, steal the puck, circle the net and score as Neuvirth stumbled in his attempt to get back and cover the other side of the net.
A couple minutes later, Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, his linemates and defenceman Mike Green all stood around in their own end watching Neuvirth try to handle consecutive shots from van Riemsdyk’s line. Neuvirth made a couple of heroic saves but wasn’t able to stop van Riemsdyk’s second stab at a rebound.
There were some nervous moments in the third period after Mike Ribeiro scored a power-play goal to cut the Leafs’ lead to one goal. But the Leafs kept skating and allowed goaltender Ben Scrivens to get his second win in four starts this season. Both Caps goals came on the power play, with Marcus Johansson getting the other one.