TORONTO — Peter Horachek saw positives but the Maple Leafs’ first step under their new interim coach started with another loss.
Marcus Johansson and Eric Fehr scored two goals apiece as the Washington Capitals, backed by a record-tying performance by Braden Holtby in goal, defeated Toronto 6-2 Wednesday night.
"There were some good things," said Horachek, who opened his post-game address with a folksy "How’s everyone?"
"We outchanced them, our possession numbers were better. We outshot them but we gave up some poor timely goals …We’ve got to eliminate those issues where we’re making things happen to ourselves. But we did a lot of things that we wanted to do and sometimes it’s just going to be harder at first than we want it to be, to get back into the win column."
The contest, before 19,047 at the Air Canada Centre, came one day after the firing of Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle.
Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin, with an empty-net goal, also scored for Washington (21-11-7). It was Ovechkin’s 20th goal of the season and 50th career point against Toronto in 35 games.
"I thought we were pretty slow out of the gates today," said Washington coach Barry Trotz. "I thought as the game went on we played more to our identity than we did early in the game."
Holtby’s 22nd straight start tied Wayne Stephenson’s club record as Washington, 7-1-2 in its last 10 games, won its third in a row while upping its road record to an impressive 12-6-3
The Caps, who benefited from a couple of shots tipped by Leafs sticks, extended their mastery over Toronto to 11-4-2 in the last 17 games between the two.
Daniel Winnik and Trevor Smith scored for Toronto (21-17-3), which has lost three straight and eight of its last 10 after a 10-1-1 run.
The Leafs outshot the Capitals 33-26.
It was the Leafs’ first home game since Dec. 20, returning from a 2-5 road trip forced by the world junior hockey championship.
Horachek, a former assistant to Trotz in Nashville, moved Leafs sniper Phil Kessel and others around, mixing his lines. Kessel had five shots on goals, four of which came in the third period.
Kessel found himself in the spotlight in the wake of Carlyle’s firing, not surprisingly objecting to being labelled as uncoachable.
"We did some good things out there but again we didn’t get it done. We gave them a couple of goals," he said.
"I think guys are positive here," he added. "We know we have a good team here. We haven’t been playing our best and we’re making some mistakes and they’re getting goals off them."
Washington led 1-0 despite being outshot 7-4 in the first period, with Johansson opening the scoring on the Caps’ first shot on Jonathan Bernier.
"Actually Marcus’ shot is very underrated. … The guy can really shoot the puck and you see tonight with two really nice goals," said Laich.
The visitors scored three more in a more open second period that saw five goals in all as Washington outshot the Leafs 14-12.
The Caps added two more in the third.
Toronto defenceman Roman Polak showed his commitment to the cause, returning late in the second period after taking a puck to the face midway through the first period, leaving a pool of blood on the ice.
Polak’s face, adorned by stitches near his mouth, was grotesquely swollen after the game,
"He’s a warrior," said Leafs defenceman Stephane Robidas. "I knew he was a warrior but he just proved it to us again."
One of the costly goals was Fehr’s short-handed effort at 6:20 of the second period that made it 2-1 for the Caps. Fehr beat Bernier after a fine rush and feed by Jay Beagle. Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly went to the bench as the puck went past him on a poor line change.
Toronto shot itself in the foot again when Johansson restored the two-goal lead with a wrist shot just 42 seconds after Smith cut the margin to 3-2 late in the second period.
The Leafs outshot the Capitals 14-8 in the third.
Toronto, which hosts Columbus on Friday, plays nine of its next 12 games on the road.