Remember when Ken Hitchcock, the coach of the St. Louis Blues and one of hockey's great elder statesmen, was asked about what kind of hockey we'd be watching during this 48-game, post-lockout sprint?

"Excitingly bizarre" was the phrase Hitchcock employed. For most of Thursday night's Maple Leafs-Capitals game you could take the "exciting" part out of any honest assessment.

There was a time, and you don't need to be an elder statesman to remember it, when Alex Ovechkin was a marquee attraction who could create intoxicating buzz in every building he visited. If you were at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night, you know that time has long passed.

Judging from the announced crowd of 19,374 and a lower bowl dotted with plenty of available seats, you could deduce this much: Many hockey-loving GTAers had tickets to see Washington's once-great No. 8. Many couldn't be bothered to use them.

Maybe, in the end, they were the fools; they missed the Leafs making a rugged third-period comeback to finally win their first home game in three tries by the score of 3-2.

Or maybe the no-shows are well aware of why all the talk of the NHL expanding to 32 teams makes complete sense. This is a league in which even the select handful of alleged star players are far from bankable. And yet somehow the game carries on. In a season in which the Maple Leafs have stocked their roster liberally with players long on AHL credentials, who's been able to tell that much of a difference between the minor leaguers and the long-time regulars of The Show?

On Thursday each team's biggest talent, Washington's Ovechkin and Toronto's Phil Kessel, came into the game with one goal between them.

The goal was Ovechkin's, of course, and he scored his second of the season on a top-of-the-circle half-slapper that gave the Capitals a 2-1 second-period lead. Kessel, meanwhile, extended his scoreless streak to seven games despite playing about as gutsy a game as he has played for the Maple Leafs.

Yet there was Leafs forward Matt Frattin, whose season began with a stint with the farm club, potting the third-period winner to tally his fourth goal in four games since being called back up. There was Washington forward Joel Ward — the 32-year-old University of Prince Edward Island alumnus from Scarborough who was never drafted into the NHL — scoring his fourth goal of the season to make it 1-0 Capitals. And if you glimpsed the out-of-town scoreboard, there was Maple Leafs training-camp castoff Keith Aucoin scoring his fourth goal of the season in the Islanders' 5-4 overtime win over the Devils in Newark.