Toronto Goalie Martin Gerber was anxious to prove to his new team they made a good decision in picking him up off waivers. If he was nervous during his first game in a Leaf jersey, it didn't show. He stopped 37 shots from the Washington Capitals, and had a shutout for 59 of 60 minutes.
The Caps were without MVP Alex Ovechkin, who received a foot injury during practice on Wednesday. Their troubles were further compounded when Defenseman Tom Poti left the ice just seconds after the the puck dropped, courtesy of his ongoing battle with a groin injury. Coach Bruce Boudreau was then forced to make line adjustments throughout 60 minutes of play, as he sent Center Sergei Federov out to play on the blue line most of the game. At one point, Eric Fehr saw some ice time on D as well. It was an interesting night.
For the first time this season, neither the Caps nor their opponent scored during the first two periods. The Caps had several quality scoring chances during the first 40 minutes, but they couldn't get anything past Gerber. In the final period, the Caps failed to clear the puck from their own zone and in the resulting scramble the Leafs finally put one in the net. Just minutes later they scored again, and for the third game in a row the Caps found themselves needing a heroic comeback to get back in the game. It wasn't to be, though, as the Leafs continued to hold the Caps scoreless until the final minute of the game when Alexander Semin scored with an extra skater on for DC. As the final seconds ticked away, the Caps tried desperately to tie the game, with no success. Final score: Caps 1, Leafs 2.
If there are any bright spots for the Caps right now, they are Semin and Federov. Semin is on a five-game scoring streak and is clearly the most determined player on the ice. His efforts are visible on every shift as he fights for the puck and moves it into the defender's zone. He had 7 shots on goal last night, 2 hits, and 3 takeaways in over 24 minutes of ice time. Federov has also stepped up his game, showing the type of leadership you'd expect from a veteran with 3 Stanley Cups on his resume'.
Other good news for the Caps: Nicklas Backstrom appears to be improving his faceoff win %, as he has been over 60% for three of the last five games. Backstrom also picked up an assist on the Semin goal, bringing his point total to 69, which ties his total from last season. Goalie Simeon Varlamov is expected to return this weekend as the Hershey Bears take on the Toronto Marlies, and Defenseman Brian Pothier will also play for Hershey as he begins a conditioning stint to see if he'll be able to return to the Capitals after a 14-month recovery from a concussion injury. Caps fans will keep their fingers crossed that Pothier's health is back to 100% for his well-being as much as for what he would bring to the team.
Next up: Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins pay another visit to Verizon Center this Sunday at 3 p.m. Expect another hard-hitting, highly physical game as the most heated rivalries in the NHL are once again on exhibition. Let's just hope Ovi is back in action by then.