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TORONTO – The play didn't actually result in a goal in Toronto's 4-2 victory over Washington, but came pretty close, another demonstration of the ease with which the NHL seems to be coming to Maple Leafs rookie Mitch Marner.
It was late in the second period Saturday night when Marner circled the Washington goal with puck in tow, cut back through the slot to where he started and then whipped a pass across the ice to Tyler Bozak, his attempt denied by reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby.
Marner had his eyes up the whole way, scanning the ice for opportunities, not bothered seemingly by Marcus Johansson, the Capitals winger trailing on the play.
"When you see him start wheeling the zone like that and going for a full lap you know it's a confident player," linemate James van Riemsdyk said.
Marner had already set up two Toronto goals at that point, vaulting into a share of first in the rookie scoring race while helping the Leafs end a three-game losing streak.
The 19-year-old, now with 18 points, has matched Winnipeg sensation Patrik Laine for first among rookies, and also tied van Riemsdyk for the Leafs' scoring lead. Marner leads all NHL rookies with 14 even-strength points, boasting six multi-point outings in his first 21 NHL games.
"He's a guy who loves the game and he works really hard at it so the sky's the limit for him," van Riemsdyk said.
Marner set up goals from van Riemsdyk and Matt Martin, and Matthews scored his first goal at home in more than a month. Nazem Kadri added his ninth goal of the season.
Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson scored, and Braden Holtby made 37 saves for Washington.
Off since a Wednesday night shootout loss in New Jersey and facing a Washington squad playing its third game in four nights, the Maple Leafs appeared the much fresher team early.
Martin opened the scoring less than 3 minutes in when he got behind the Washington tandem of John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov and beat Holtby for his second goal of the season and second in two games. The 27-year-old, who went the first 19 games of the year without a goal, was set up beautifully on the play by Marner, the 19-year-old firing a dart from one blue line to the other for his 17th point of the season.
The Leafs kept it coming after the goal, outshooting the Capitals 12-1 at one point in the first while drawing three power plays. They came close to beating Holtby once more, but the reigning Vezina Trophy winner stood his ground, turning aside the final 12 shots of the period.
The home side grabbed their fourth power play of the game moments into the second when Peter Holland gained a step on Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, held as he broke free for an opportunity on Holtby. Holland was in the lineup for only his eighth game this year because 20-year-old rookie William Nylander was sidelined with an upper body injury (day-to-day).
With the power play it was Marner again showing his skill. He dropped a soft pass into the slot for fellow rookie Nikita Soshnikov and while his attempt was denied, the puck landed right in front of van Riemsdyk. He promptly flipped the puck over Holtby's left pad for his team-leading ninth goal this season.
Toronto got in and out of trouble a short while later. With Zach Hyman already in the box for holding, Leo Komarov was then whistled for hooking, giving the Capitals a 24-second five-on-three advantage. The Leafs managed to kill off both penalties though and escape unharmed.
Holtby continued to perform throughout a more evenly-played second, countered at the other end by Andersen. The Leafs No. 1 stopped Taylor Chorney streaking down the right side with a glove save and then turned aside both Matt Niskanen and Backstrom on another Capitals man advantage.
Marner continued to dazzle otherwise. After blocking a Justin Williams shot and hobbling off the bench the Thornhill, Ont., native then returned to make another eye-catching play. With puck in tow and Johansson trailing, Marner circled around the net, cut back through the slot to where he started and then flung a pass to Tyler Bozak, his attempt just above the goal-line denied by Holtby.
Matthews padded the Leafs lead to three 22 seconds into the third when he blasted a Matt Hunwick rebound for his ninth goal of the season.
Andersen made maybe his best stop of the game near the midway point of the final period, stretching to snatch Carlson's attempt with his glove.
Backstrom scored a short time later, stuffing a shot into the goal on a scramble around the net.
NOTES: Toronto had dropped its previous three games all by a goal (0-2-1), downed by Montreal, Carolina and New Jersey.
Capitals: Have four days off before facing the New York Islanders at home Thursday night
Maple Leafs: Open a three-game Western Canada swing at Edmonton on Tuesday night.