When Troy Brouwer scored less than five minutes into the game, it looked as if the Caps were on their way to doing just that. But at the end of the night, when Carter Hutton stopped Nicklas Backstrom in the third round of the Gimmick, it was the Nashville Predators skating off with two points, beating the Caps, 4-3, in the freestyle competition.
Brouwer opened the scoring by finishing a slick passing sequence among himself, Backstrom, and Mike Green. The result was a layup by Brouwer from the edge of the paint to Hutton’s right. However, as has happened so many times this season, the Caps allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one themselves. This time it was Patric Hornqvist following up a Shea Weber shot, beating defenseman Patrick Wey to the puck and flipping it past goalie Jaroslav Halak just 1:38 after the Brouwer goal.
Hornqvist netted his second of the game with just 90 seconds left in the first period when he was gifted a turnover at the Capitals blue line, skated in on Halak, and lifted a forehand over Halak’s glove to give Nashville a 2-1 lead at the first intermission.
Brouwer tied the game for the Caps late in the second period on a power play. The play started when Marcus Johansson swept the puck along the end wall to Backstrom in the right wing corner. Backstom skated the puck up the wall then returned it to Johansson at the goal line extended to Hutton’s left. Johansson tried to find Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle, but the puck hit the Preds’ Mike Fisher and dropped softly in the slot. Brouwer took advantage of the loose puck and flipped a backhand past Hutton’s blocker to tie the game 14:22 into the period.
The teams exchanged goals in the third period, Nashville scoring first when Shea Weber unleashed the fury of his slap shot, stepping into a drop pass from Fisher at the right point and beating Halak cleanly to the far side past the blocker. It looked as if that might be it for the scoring, but Washington had one left. On another power play, John Carlson kept a loose puck in the Nashville zone. He fed Backstrom on the right wing to start the play. Backstrom circled but could not find any open passing lane. There was, though, a void in the Predator defense that allowed Backstrom to step up. He did, and from inside the top edge of the right wing circle, he wristed the puck through a Brouwer screen in front and past Hutton to tie the game with 7:40 to go in the game.
That would be it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the evening. In the skills competition, Craig Smith scored for the Preds, and Hutton shut out the Caps, leaving Washington with a single standings point that helps some, but not nearly enough as the games left dwindle and the points are hard to come by.
-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal was his second in his last 15 games, both power play goals. He has not had an even strength goal since February 27th against Florida. As it is, Backstrom has only three goals, including his power play tally tonight, in his last 31 games.
-- The Caps allowed Nashville no power plays. It is the third time this season the Caps played a game without going shorthanded, blanking Buffalo on December 29th and Boston on March 6th. They are perfect on the penalty kill in those situations (rimshot), but they lost each of those contests, twice in the Gimmick.
-- Not even the power play is saving the Caps now. For the second time in three games the Caps went 2-for-4 with the man advantage but lost both games in the skills competition.
-- With this loss the Caps now have their sixth losing streak of three or more games this season. Last season they had three such streaks in 48 games. In 2011-2012 they had five such streaks. This qualifies as going in the wrong direction.
-- Brouwer’s two goals give him four two-goal games this season, all of them in his last 18 games.
-- OK, we’ll say it. Alex Ovechkin was minus-2 for the night. That makes him minus-34 for the season, last among the 858 skaters to have dressed in the NHL this season. Why, you ask? OK, Ovechkin is not going to be a Selke winner, that was established long ago. But with Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson as linemates? Combined those two had two shots on goal in this game. Johansson had an assist, but that came on a power play. He has not had an even strength point in his last 12 games. Beagle has had three even strength points (all assists) over his last 22 games. It’s hard to improve plus-minus when there aren’t many “pluses” on the board at even strength. Oh yes…Ovechkin does not have an even-strength point in his last 15 games, either.
-- It is getting to be as if when the third line does well, the Caps do well. When they are silent, the Caps do not do well. The Jason Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward line was held without a point on two shots on goal.
-- Going into the game, Nashville was 1-8 in the Gimmick. They had the league’s third worst shooting percentage in the skills phase and were tied for the fourth worst save percentage in the league. Live by the Gimmick...die by the Gimmick.
-- The Caps essentially let Nashville play its game. The teams combined for 87 shot attempts over 65 minutes. By way of comparison, Boston had 66 shot attempts by themselves on Saturday against the Caps in regulation.
-- Going into tonight’s game, Nashville’s Rich Clune chalked up 172 fights in his organized hockey career, dating back to 2003-2004, including a fight at the Traverse City prospects tournament in 2007. Washington’s Patrick Wey had one fight on his ledger, that coming against Taylor Johnson in the USHL in January 2009. It is hardly surprising that Wey was overwhelmed by Clune in their bout in the first period. Get well soon, kid.
In the end…
The Caps looked like this was a September pre-season game for long stretches of this game. It was not as if Nashville was imposing its steely will on the Caps, it was that the Caps could not make the simplest plays and gave up territory in the neutral zone as if they were retreating from George Patton and the Third Army. It is far too late to expect anything else from this team. They can scare up the intermittent superior effort, as they did in California a couple of weeks ago. But far more often than not, the Caps play the same way. Passive, weak at even strength, depending on its power play for too much of its offense, and just looking as if the necessary compete level is not there on a consistent basis. It was all on display against Nashville. If there is one thing Caps fans need to start realizing, it will not be on display much longer this season.