WASHINGTON — Connor Brown made the most of his move up the lineup to keep the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ hot start rolling.
Brown scored the game-winning goal in the third period as the Maple Leafs beat the Washington Capitals 2-0 Tuesday night in a rematch of their first-round playoff series last spring. Toronto, which handed Washington its second consecutive loss since losing top defenceman Matt Niskanen to injury, has won five of its first six games.
"We feel good about our team," said Brown, who poked a rebound past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby with 14:07 left for his second goal of the season. "We’re really excited about what we have. We feel like we’re getting better defensively and I think we’ve got a lot of options that can score goals. That helps you win night in, night out."
Frederik Andersen stopped all 30 shots he faced as the Maple Leafs shut out the Capitals on the road for the first time in 73 regular-season meetings. Nazem Kadri added an empty-netter with 22 seconds left to seal the victory.
"These are the big games, the good teams you get up for," Andersen said. "You want to kind of measure yourself a little bit, especially since they beat us last year in the playoffs. I think it’s fun for us to come down here and get a little bit of revenge."
Brown moved up to the third line alongside James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak and scored when he corralled the rebound of Morgan Rielly’s point shot and beat Holtby.
"I liked that Brownie worked hard, he was good on the penalty kill and he got to the net when they got the puck there," coach Mike Babcock said. "It was great to see him get to the net and be rewarded."
The Capitals leaned on Holtby to make a handful of his 28 saves in the first few minutes as the Maple Leafs dominated. Their defence was better than in an 8-2 loss at Philadelphia on Saturday, but the power play went 0 for 3 and Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Washington’s top stars couldn’t cash in on limited opportunities.
"It’s pretty hard to play without puck right now," Kuznetsov said. "We have to work harder away from the puck."
Forcing defenceman John Carlson to play 27:33 with Niskanen out until at least Nov. 7 with an upper-body injury, the Capitals couldn’t muster the kind of offensive firepower they’ve been known for in previous seasons. Carlson thought the team effort was better, but the results simply weren’t there.
"We gave up a lot of chances — too many from what we’re used to," Carlson said. "I think we’ve got to score goals. You’re not going to win if you don’t score."
Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs didn’t score at their NHL-leading pace, something Babcock would like to fix moving forward. But a young team that lost in six games to the Capitals in last year’s playoffs will take victories in tight games however they can get them.
"When it’s crunch time and you’re getting close to the end of the year like we were last year, we were right in the mix, you look back on these kind of close games and you think about the value that’s in these points," Rielly said. "To get these ones and to get a good feeling in our room and get rolling a little bit is a great feeling. But it’s only six games. We’ve got a long way left to go, but those points do feel good."
NOTES: Washington C Tyler Graovac left in the first period with an upper-body injury after taking successive hits from Toronto’s Matt Martin. Coach Barry Trotz said Graovac is "going to miss a little bit of time here." … Graovac was filling in for C Lars Eller, who missed the game with an illness. … Brown swapped places with Mitch Marner, who Babcock complimented for playing well on the fourth line with Martin and Dominic Moore.
Maple Leafs: Host the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night in the second half of a back-to-back.
Capitals: Travel to play Detroit on Friday in their first visit to new Little Caesars Arena.