TORONTO | Not only were the Washington Capitals short seven skaters, but playing on a second consecutive night for the third straight Saturday, they also were short on energy.
Semyon Varlamov carried the Caps for as long as he could, though it wasn’t enough. Niklas Hagman scored Toronto’s lone goal and sealed the shootout with a tally in a 2-1 victory for the Maple Leafs at sold-out Air Canada Centre.
“We gutted it out a little bit - we looked pretty tired,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Sometimes it is a bad one point and sometimes there is a good one point. I thought we were lucky to come away with one.”
The overall effort wasn’t great at the beginning of the contest, but it improved in the second half. By then the Caps players’ legs weren’t always willing to cooperate, and the Leafs, who entered the night with an NHL-low three victories and 12 points, controlled the game for long stretches.
Varlamov stopped 38 of 39 shots in his fourth straight outing. Boudreau stopped short of saying Varlamov is his new No. 1 goaltender, but he did say the 21-year-old Russian rookie - who has turned aside 110 of 115 shots since relieving Jose Theodore against the Islanders on Nov. 11 - has earned more playing time.
“I thought [Varlamov] looked really sharp tonight,” center Brendan Morrison said. “He made some big, big saves, especially in the third to keep us in it. He looks pretty good back there.”
Boudreau may not have been critical of his team’s effort, but Alex Ovechkin was harsh when assessing himself and his line. Ovechkin has two goals in three games since returning from a strain near his left shoulder, but he hasn’t had the same dominant impact he typically does.
Ovechkin did score the lone goal of the opening period, however. Mike Green and Ovechkin had a mini two-on-one, and the two-time MVP hammered a one-timer past Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala for his 16th of the season.
“I’m not happy with how I played today, and I’m not happy with how my line played today,” Ovechkin said. “Yeah, we score one goal, but we have to score more. If we have more ice time than everybody, then we have to use it.”
Hagman evened the score at 16:49 of the second. Toronto had a four-on-three, and a shot went off Caps defenseman Tyler Sloan before Hagman was able to direct it into the net for his ninth of the season.
Varlamov saved Washington during a lackluster middle period. Toronto had 17 shots - 13 in the first half of the period - but the Russian rookie yielded only the fluky goal.
Right wing Andrew Gordon was recalled from Hershey to replace Tom Poti (upper body) on the roster.
Without Poti, the number of injured Caps rose to seven of the 18 skaters on the opening night roster. Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Quintin Laing, Milan Jurcina and Boyd Gordon did not make the trip, which continues Monday in Ottawa. Shaone Morrisonn skated Saturday morning but was held out.
“When I was hurt and Mike Green was hurt, guys just stepped up and played better hockey,” Ovechkin said. “Right now, maybe we are tired but we didn’t play our game. Bruce told us what to do - try and get the puck in deep and create some hits and traffic in front of the net, but we don’t do it.”