Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A NO-point night -- Game 16: Predators 3 - Capitals 1

He might not be worth seven million dollars a year…

..then again, maybe he is.

Pekka Rinne showed why he is in the top tier of goaltenders in the NHL, stopping 39 of 40 shots—17 of them coming in the third period – as the Nashville Predators sent the Washington Capitals to their second straight loss and fourth in five games, 3-1, in Nashville.

For 55 minutes it was a battle of goaltenders, with the Caps’ Tomas Vokoun matching Rinne save for save. But at the 15:14 mark of the third period it was Washington that broke through, Troy Brouwer taking a centering pass from Marcus Johansson and snapping the puck off the post and in behind Rinne. The Caps caught the Predators on a line change, and Brouwer used forward Mike Fisher – who had just jumped on – as a screen for his shot.

But the critical sequence took place on the dreaded “next shift.” That’s the one folks say you can’t let the other team score on, but that is what Nashville did, Martin Erat redirecting a crossing pass from Shea Weber for the tying goal 28 seconds after the Caps scored. It was a case of Erat being lost by the defenseman on the weak side – John Carlson – and having a clear path to the open area to Vokoun’s right. He had only to get his stick blade on the puck coming across, and the momentum the Caps might have had from the first goal scored with under five minutes left was thwarted.

Nashville got the tie breaker on a defensive breakdown low in the Caps’ zone. Defensemen Dennis Wideman and John Erskine got caught, not only on the same side of the ice – to Vokoun’s right – but were caught outside the faceoff dots pursuing the puck carrier, Colin Wilson. Circling out from the boards, Wilson sent the puck deep to Martin Erat, who had no defender on him as he collected the puck to Vokoun’s right. Wideman managed to scramble to the front of the net, but Erskine was on his knee at the dot in the faceoff circle from trying to block Wilson’s shot/pass. Wilson darted to the net, and with Wideman charging toward Erat to defend against a scoring chance, there was nothing but open ice in front of him. It was left for Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble to try to close the distance, but Wilson had the advantage. Erat slid the puck into space in front of the Caps’ net, and Wilson batted it in as he was being hauled down. The Preds had their first, last, and the only lead they needed, 2-1, with 25 seconds left.

Shea Weber drove the last nail in with an empty net goal five seconds later, and that was that. It was the Caps leaving the ice with their fourth loss in their last five games.

Other stuff…

-- Another game, another goose egg posted by the Nashville defensive pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. That’s nine games in a row since those two were on the ice at the same time for an opponent’s goal. Each was a plus-3 for the evening.

-- The first line was the victim of that Suter-Weber-Rinne blanket. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Troy Brouwer had a total of ten shot attempts as a line (Brouwer scored when he was on ice with Cody Eakin and Marcus Johansson; Kevin Kline and Francis Bouillon were the defensemen of record). The top line had only five shots on goal, Ovechkin recording four of them.

-- If Weber and Suter could be deployed against the first line, then the second line has to take advantage. In those instances, the emphasis is more on Rinne being able to turn away shots without that top-end defensive deployment in front of him. Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, and Alexander Semin had 14 shots on goal, more than a third of the Caps’ total for the game. Semin had ten shot attempts. The Caps had their chances, and if anything, here is where the game was won by Nashville and by Rinne in particular.

-- The power play is once more a problem. The Caps had three last night – a 5-on-4, a 5-on-3, and a 4-on-3 – and managed to record only three shots in 4:00 of power play time.  That makes 0-for-12 in their last three games.

-- In failing to register a point, Nicklas Backstrom has gone without a point in consecutive games for the first time this season. And it is more than a little disturbing to now find Backstrom (minus-3), Ovechkin (minus-3), Semin (minus-2), and Laich (minus-2) all on the minus side of the ledger for the season.

-- The Caps were 18-for-29 on faceoffs in the offensive end (62.1 percent). If anything, this should have placed even more pressure on the Nashville defense. It just added to the offensive frustration for the Caps in this one.

-- What a difference a moment makes. That moment came before Colin Wilson’s game-winning goal when Mike Knuble almost drove a stake into the heart of the Predators. Jason Chimera was at the left wing boards, where he spun and fired the puck at the net. Knuble stepped around the post inside defenseman Kevin Kline with the puck headed to the net. With Mike Fisher draped all over him, Knuble tried mightily to stuff the puck under Pekka Rinne, but was foiled. Nine second later, it was Nashville that got the game-winner.

-- Cody Eakin recorded an assist on the Brouwer goal. That’s four points in six games and a plus-4. It is a small number of games to evaluate performance, but he might make it hard to return him to Hershey.

-- Lost in all of this is that Tomas Vokoun did his part to keep the Caps in it. Even the two goals he allowed late were products of breakdowns in front of him. He stopped 60 of 63 shots in his last two games (.952 save percentage). He seems to have put his rough stretch behind him.

-- The Caps allowed the game-winning goal at 19:35 and an empty netter at 19:40 in the third period of this one. They allowed the game-winner at 18:14 and an empty netter at 18:59 in the third period against the Islanders. This is not a habit to get into.

In the end, everyone knew this would be a tough, close to the vest game. It is what Nashville does, especially when the trio of Rinne, Weber, and Suter are playing at the top of their games. But the Caps are now 1-3-1 in their last five games scoring three or fewer goals. These are games they need to get the late goal and the empty netter…or have that stuff attempt by Knuble go in…or get something out of the second line when the big defensive assets are being deployed against the top line by the opponent.

They didn’t get the goal. Nashville did. And before you know it, it starts to have the faint whiff of last December. Four losses in five games and two road games in Canada coming up. It doesn’t get easier.


Anonymous said...

Semin is on pace for 123 PIMs this year. He is worthless.

Doug B. said...

I too am smelling vapors of December 2010: third period breakdowns, defensemen out of position, no puck-luck and Mssrs. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Laich (for good measure, we will throw in # 52 as well) nowhere near the airport with the white courtesy phone ringing off the hook. Last year MP85 came through to break the skid...who will wear the "S" this time around?? Ugh.