- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Washington Capitals needed six games last season to advance past the first round of the playoffs against the scrappy Toronto Maple Leafs.

When the teams met for the first time since the postseason Tuesday, Washington and Toronto both needed time to feel each other out.

After all, the Capitals wondered how much different would Toronto be this time around. The Maple Leafs entered the season crowned as the NHL’s next team to take a dramatic leap — given another year with star Auston Matthews and an upgraded blue line. Was it hype?

After a 2-0 loss to the Maple Leafs at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, the Capitals (3-3-1) clearly have respect for an up-and-coming rival and problems they need to correct.

“Obviously, we have a lot of new guys this year, but at the same time, we’re seven games in now and everybody’s been able to get their feet wet,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. “There’s no excuses now. Now, we need to get going.”

Entering the game, the Capitals were focused on correcting defensive issues stemming from an 8-2 loss in Philadelphia over the weekend. Washington is without top defenseman Matt Niskanen, whose upper-body injury will keep him out at least until Nov. 7. Niskanen is a huge loss for a team that already lacks blue line depth.

The Maple Leafs figured to be a solid test for the Capitals, considering Toronto led the league in scoring with 28 goals prior to the game.

On Tuesday, Washington played much better defensively. Once again, they started off shaky with too many careless turnovers in their own zone, but settled as the game went on.

In Niskanen’s absence, Capitals coach Barry Trotz is determined to get the most out of defenseman John Carlson. Carlson played 27:33 in ice time. He was on the ice for the majority of the first period, as well.

A simple mistake, however, can be costly against a quality team. That’s exactly what happened when Toronto’s Connor Brown scored the first goal of the game with 14:33 left to play in the third period.

Brown stood in the front of the net and scored off a rebound, right through goaltender Braden Holtby’s legs.

“I think if we play like that defensively, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “Their goal is kind of a broken play, the guy’s kind of alone and banging at the puck and it goes in. It’s one little breakdown in a long night against a high-skilled team. I think we’ll take that.”

Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri added an empty netter with 22 seconds left.

Despite 30 shots on goal, the Capitals failed to generate clean looks. T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky often had their shots blocked. All around, slapshots were mistimed or lacked the “oomph” to make it to the net.

The Capitals ended up trying to find the balance between playing better defensively and finding the right chances to score.

“I thought early, we made a few mistakes, turned a few pucks over, didn’t get them deep when we needed to, especially through the neutral zone, and it sort of counted on us a little bit,” Trotz said. “After that, we sort of settled into the game a little bit. I think it was pretty even after that. They scored on their chance. We just need to score on ours.”

Graovac hurt

Besides Niskanen, the Capitals were without third-line center Lars Eller because of an illness. Then near the end of the first, his replacement, Tyler Graovac, was announced out with an upper-body injury.

Trotz said Graovac would “be out a little bit of time,” but didn’t disclose any more information. Eller is considered day-to-day.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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