Sundin, who is among Toronto's all-time leaders in many offensive categories, has gone without a point in his last five games and has just three goals and two assists in his last 11. But the Maple Leafs have not let their captain's shortcomings affect them as they rallied from an early deficit to gain their fifth win in seven games.
"I think Mats has been excellent," Toronto right wing Mikael Renberg said. "Even though he hasn't scored the last couple games, I think he has shown more leadership than ever. Hard work in our zone, winning faceoffs, creating chances - he does it all."
Sundin had a chance to end his drought with 5:17 remaining in the first period, but Washington goaltender Olaf Kolzig turned away his breakaway attempt to keep the star center off the scoreboard.
After scoring three times in the first 8:49 of the second period, Toronto allowed goals by Michael Nylander and Ivan Ciernik late in the session that knotted the game, 4-4.
But just 16 seconds after Washington defenseman Brendan Witt was whistled for tripping, Svehla fired a slap shot from the left point that beat goaltender Olaf Kolzig on the glove side to put the Maple Leafs ahead.
"We didn't deserve to win tonight, there's no question," Kolzig said. "I think we were fortunate to be where we were, and we didn't take advantage of that situation and ultimately, it cost us the game."
"It's just frustrating in a game that we probably shouldn't have been in early on and had a chance to win," Washington coach Bruce Cassidy said. "But it's the story of the Caps this year. Inconsistencies period to period, shift to shift, night to night."
Svehla added two assists and Nik Antropov and Renberg netted power-play goals for Toronto, which posted its third consecutive home win to improve to 7-7-1-0 at Air Canada Centre.
Dainius Zubrus had a goal and an assist for Washington, while defenseman Calle Johansson netted his 51st power-play tally as a Capital, moving past Kevin Hatcher to become the team's all-time leader among defensemen.
Antropov opened the scoring at 13:45 of the first period, batting the rebound of his own shot from the right side of the net out of the air and past Kolzig for a power-play goal to give Toronto the lead.
But after Zubrus evened the game by deflecting rookie defenseman Steve Eminger's point shot by Ed Belfour with 90 seconds remaining in the period, Johansson blasted a slapper from the left point that beat the Toronto goalie to the stick side with two seconds left to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead after one session.
The lead was short-lived as defenseman Tomas Kaberle slapped the rebound of a shot by Antropov past Kolzig 34 seconds into the second to draw the Leafs even.
"We got that late goal in the first and we needed to come out and pounce in the second, and they got that one about 20 or 30 seconds in," Capitals' rookie center Brian Sutherby said. "That's something we can't have happen."
Playing in his 100th game with Toronto, Robert Reichel wristed a shot that beat Kolzig high on the stick side four minutes later to put the Leafs in front, 3-2. Renberg deflected Svehla's slapper from the right point to give Toronto a two-goal cushion, but a few lucky bounces allowed the Capitals to erase the deficit before the second intermission.
While on the power play, Nylander fired a shot from the right side that Belfour stopped. But the veteran goaltender failed to control the puck, which fell to the ice and stopped just before crossing the goal line. With Jaromir Jagr attempting to jab the puck in, Belfour's attempt to cover it backfired as he knocked the puck across the line to draw Washington within 4-3 at 10:51.
Less than seven minutes later, Ciernik's pass attempt from the left boards bounced off defenseman Aki Berg's leg and behind Belfour to even the game.
"I think Washington only shot one into our net," Toronto coach Pat Quinn said. "They were all off skates and redirects."
"Weird goals," Leafs defenseman Wade Belak said. "We had a lot of chances in the first, and (then) some lucky goals went in. But we got the result we wanted."