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Maple Leafs beat Capitals 3-2 for first home win

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Maple Leafs beat Capitals 3-2 for first home win

TORONTO (AP) Nikolai Kulemin and Matt Frattin scored third-period goals to give the Toronto Maple Leafs their first home win of the season with a 3-2 comeback victory over the struggling Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

Kulemin tied it 2-all at 7:40 of the third, poking in a puck that squeezed through Michal Neuvirth's legs following Michael Kostka's shot from the point. As the Washington goalie tried in vain to squeeze his pads, Kulemin reached behind and nudged the puck in for his first of the year.

Frattin made it 3-2, capping a nice passing play with Nazem Kadri at 9:53 by tapping in the puck for his fourth goal - and sixth point - in four games.

The Maple Leafs lived dangerously in the final minutes as the Capitals (1-5-1) pressed for a tying goal that never came.

James van Riemsdyk also scored for Toronto (4-3-0), which outshot Washington 40-22. The Maple Leafs had their chances to take control earlier in the game, but a lack of clinical finishing and a failure to convert numerous power-play opportunities frustrated them before 19,374 at the Air Canada Centre.

Toronto, which came into the game ranked 20th on the power play, went 1 for 8 with the man-advantage. There were no penalties in the third period.

Alex Ovechkin doubled his goal output on the season when he scored on the power play at 2:38 of the second period, drilling a low wrist shot through James Reimer from just outside the faceoff circle for a 2-1 lead.

Joel Ward opened the scoring for Washington, which has yet to win on the road. Mike Ribeiro had two assists, upping his scoring total to one goal and seven assists.

Before the game, Ward noted on Twitter that baseball icon Jackie Robinson would have turned 94 on Thursday.

``Hope I represent the number well! 42,'' tweeted Ward, who wears the number in Robinson's honor.

The Capitals went ahead within the first 2 minutes of the game but then were assessed five straight penalties in the next 9 minutes and were outshot 15-7 in the first period. Toronto was on the power play for 6:11 of the first 20 minutes, managing to take advantage once.

Thanks to Ovechkin, the Caps led 2-1 midway through the game despite having only 10 shots.

The Leafs were coming off a 4-3 overtime win in Buffalo on Tuesday. Washington lost 3-2 in Ottawa the same night, giving up a 2-0 lead and conceding the winning goal on the power play with 2:30 remaining.

Going into the game, both teams had snipers stuck in neutral.

Ovechkin, who arrived with one goal and one assist, hasn't had an even-strength goal in his last 10 games, dating back to the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Leafs showed him little respect, with captain Dion Phaneuf bowling him over in the Washington crease in the first period. The Capitals star did not manage a shot on goal in the first period.

Toronto sniper Phil Kessel, meanwhile, entered the game goalless with three assists in his first six games - failing to score on 27 shots in his bid for his 100th goal with the Maple Leafs.

His drought continued in the first period as Neuvirth stoned him from in close during a 4-minute power play with Jason Chimera off for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct.

But a Kessel shot on the extended power play led to van Riemsdyk's goal as the big forward, stationed in front like a lamppost, tucked in the rebound for his fourth of the season at 8:19.

The Caps had jumped into the lead at 1:36 when Ribeiro, angling the puck from behind the goal, threaded a pass through several Toronto defenders to an unmarked Ward who fired it in.

Kessel, who had five shots in the first 40 minutes, was somehow denied by Neuvirth midway through the second when he tucked a shot between his legs from in-close. Neuvirth did it again with a glove save in the third.

Neuvirth, who deserved a better result, also stopped van Riemsdyk on a late breakaway.

Clarke MacArthur (finger), Mike Komisarek (eye) and Mike Brown (shoulder) sat out for the Leafs.

NOTES: Toronto claimed 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward Frazer McLaren off waivers from San Jose. The Maple Leafs also called up Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton and placed Mike Brown on injured reserve after he hurt his shoulder in a fight Tuesday. ... Washington forward Brooks Laich, recovering from a groin injury sustained playing in Europe during the lockout, took part in the morning skate for the first time this season. ... Toronto's homestand continues Saturday against Boston and Monday against Carolina.

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Two Team USA Capitals set to hit earlier than expected

Two Team USA Capitals set to hit earlier than expected

T.J. Oshie and Matt Niskanen will return to practice on Sunday, which is a day earlier than expected, associate coach Todd Reirden announced Saturday.

John Carlson, however, will rejoin his teammates on Monday as originally planned.  

“The setup we had for them was one travel day and two days off,” Reirden said, referring to the Capitals’ plan for players returning from the World Cup of Hockey. “Those two guys both want skate tomorrow and practice tomorrow. John needs an extra day just to take care of some different stuff.”

Reirden said the three Team USA players won’t participate in Monday’s preseason opener against the Hurricanes or Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens.

“That’s way too soon, as much as I’d love to see them out there,” Reirden said. “We’re going to wait a little bit. …We’ll see as things go from there. Some of it hinges upon some younger players, too, and how they do with the opportunities that are in front of them.”

Team USA’s final World Cup game was on Thursday night. Capitals’ training camp opened on Friday.

“We’re thinking about the start of the season and what gets each of [the World Cup participants] ready for the start of the season,” Reirden said.

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After bouncing around, Brett Connolly aims to find his game with the Capitals

After bouncing around, Brett Connolly aims to find his game with the Capitals

In the six years since Tampa Bay selected Brett Connolly with the sixth overall pick, the big winger’s numbers haven’t matched his draft status.

In fact, he hasn’t put up more than 25 points in a season.

But as he gets going with the Capitals — his third NHL team in two years — Connolly sounds optimistic that this will be the season he turns potential into offensive production.

“I think the style that they play here is going to play well into my hands,” Connolly said Saturday. “That’s kind of my game — skating, shooting, making plays. So far, so good. I like the way they play, their systems and their style. I think it’s a matter of putting it together consistently, and if I can do that, then I can have a good year, open their eyes and help this team win.”

The Capitals hope to tap into the upside Connolly was unable to show in Tampa and Boston. The Bruins did not extend the 24-year-old a qualifying offer this summer after he notched nine goals and 16 assists in 71 games last season. A few days later, Washington signed Connolly to a one-year, $850,000 contract on July 1.

“There were a lot guys this year that didn’t get [qualifying offers],” Connolly said. “I think the market in the league was a little bit deflated this year. It’s all a business. …I thought I was [going to be qualified], but things change. What are you going to do? I was fortunate Washington called right away and I didn’t really have to worry about it too much in the summer. As I said before, it was a no brainer. No matter what the money looks like, it’s the opportunity.”    

Associate coach Todd Reirden sees the deal being beneficial for the player and the team, which needs more offense from its bottom six forwards.

“We feel as an organization that he’s a guy [whose] game is on the rise," Reirden said. "We feel like we’re getting him at a good time. Sometimes players go through some difficult times and struggles and you can get real fortunate as an organization to pick this guy and get a bit of a gem. …Our system of play is designed for a player of his ability.”

Connolly said he hasn’t been told exactly where the coaches see him fitting into the lineup. But the next week is critical for him; with preseason games on Monday and Tuesday and four top-six forwards out due to the World Cup, it’s likely he’ll pick up some of those prime minutes at even strength and on the power play.

“He’s going to get an opportunity to show us what he can do,” Reirden said.  

Said Connolly: “My play is going [to determine] where I’m going to play. Just be a little bit more offensive, I think. They talked about the third line and [needing] the bottom six guys chipping in a little more. I’m a guy who can step into the power play and use my shot and chip in offensively. It’s just a matter of being good defensively.”

Connolly didn’t gloss over the fact that he hasn’t lived up to the hype. But he also made sure to use the word “yet” when asked about it.

“When you’re drafted high, there’s expectations,” he said. “Maybe it hasn’t happened yet. But I’m still very confident in my abilities. There’s been some good times. There’s been some not so good times. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”

MORE CAPITALS: NISKANEN, OSHIE AND CARLSON SET TO RETURN NEXT WEEK