Morgan Rielly scores first goal of the season, Maple Leafs down Capitals 5-1
TORONTO — Morgan Rielly's first goal of the season stood up as the winner for Toronto in the Maple Leafs' 5-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday.
Michael Bunting, with a goal and an assist, William Nylander, Pierre Engvall and Zach Aston-Reese provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (31-12-8). Ilya Samsonov made 23 saves in his sixth straight start — and seventh consecutive appearance.
Nicklas Backstrom replied for Washington (26-20-6). Darcy Kuemper allowed four goals on 20 shots before being replaced by Charlie Lindgren. The Capitals backup finished with six stops.
Leafs captain John Tavares, who played the 1,000th regular-season game of his NHL career, was honoured by the team with a ceremony before the rare 5 p.m. ET puck drop at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said earlier in the day goaltender Matt Murray (ankle) will be out through the NHL all-star break and the club's subsequent bye week, but added the injury isn't expected to keep him out long-term.
Murray was scheduled to start Friday's ugly 6-2 loss to Ottawa, but was a late scratch that forced the overworked Samsonov back into action. Joseph Woll was called up from the AHL on an emergency basis Sunday. The Leafs were also without star centre Auston Matthews for a second straight game with a knee injury that will keep him out until at least mid-February.
Down 1-0 after the first period, Toronto got even 1:29 of the second when Bunting slid his 15th goal of the season past Kuemper on a power play.
Rielly then snapped his first of the campaign — the defenceman looked skyward in relief as he celebrated — at exactly seven minutes to make it 2-1.
Nylander added his team-leading 28th on a delayed penalty at 10:45 before Engvall scored his 10th at 14:20 for a 4-1 advantage that spelled the end of Kuemper's outing.
Leafs centre David Kampf picked up an assist on Toronto's fourth goal for the 100th point of his career.
Aston-Reese rounded out the scoring with 3:13 left in regulation with his fifth.
Washington opened the scoring with 2:43 left in a sleepy first when Backstrom, who played just his ninth game of 2022-23 following hip surgery, fired his first of the campaign through a screen on Samsonov.
The netminder signed with Toronto in free agency after being cut loose by Washington, which drafted him 22nd overall at the 2015 NHL draft, in the summer when he wasn't tendered a qualifying offer.
TAVARES HITS 1,000
The 32-year-old expected "quite a few" family and friends in attendance for his milestone moment. "Probably the most I've had in my career," Tavares said following Saturday's practice. "Great to share it with so many people." Selected first overall by the New York Islanders in 2009, the Oakville, Ont., product is the 375th player in NHL history to play 1,000 games. "Tremendous honour," Tavares said. "Hard to put into words … just a lot of gratitude."
LAVIOLETTE REACHES OWN MILESTONE
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette coached the 1,400th game of his NHL career. The 58-year-old debuted with the Islanders in 2001 and won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. Laviolette has also coached Philadelphia and Nashville.
The Leafs announced before the game Matthews has been put on injured reserve. Toronto also activated T.J. Brodie off IR. The defenceman had missed the last 10 games with a rib problem — his second time on the shelf this season after missing 15 contests because of an oblique injury.
Washington: Visits Columbus on Tuesday.
Toronto: Hosts Boston on Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2023.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press