When trading leads, it’s best to make sure you are the one taking the last one, of course. That detail was missing last night in the Washington Capitals’ 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators. James Neal scored the game-winner for the Predators with less than two minutes left to send the Caps to their first regulation loss of 2015 and ruining Caps' head coach Barry Trotz' return to Nashville, where he coached the Predators for 15 seasons.
Before that, however, the teams played a version of anything you can do, I can do better. Nashville opened the scoring in the first period when Braden Holtby got a glove on defenseman Seth Jone’s drive from the right point, but not enough to keep the puck from fluttering into the net. Less than two minutes into the second period, Nashville upped the lead to two goals on a benevolent nod from the hockey gods. Victor Bartley sent a shot toward the Washington net. Mike Fisher got the blade of his stick to redirect the shot, but the redirect was going wide, at least until it ended up square on the tape of Neal’s stick. All that remained was for Neal to deposit the puck into the empty net behind goalie Braden Holtby.
Less than two minutes after the Neal goal the Caps started mounting a comeback. It was a Cap standard, Nicklas Backstrom from the right wing wall sliding a pass to Karl Alzner, who then found Alex Ovechkin low in the left wing circle for a one-timer that beat goalie Carter Hutton cleanly to make it 2-1.
It took less than three minutes after Ovechkin’s first goal for Ovechkin to tie the game, this time on a power play. With Mattias Ekholm out on a tripping call, Marcus Johansson steadied an uncooperative puck along the right wing wall and backhanded it out to Troy Brouwer. Brouwer to Green, then Green to Ovechkin in the left wing circle for another one timer that deflected off the shaft of Hutton’s stick into the top of the net, and it was a tie game.
Early in the third period the Caps took their first lead of the game on another power play. This time it was Marcus Johansson taking a feed from Backstrom at the crease to Hutton’s left, turning, and taking two whacks at the puck from in close, the second sliding past Hutton’s left pad to make it 3-2.
Nashville returned the favor to the Caps late in the period. With John Carlson off on a tripping call, the Predators tied the game on a power play on a goal by Ekholm. That left it up to the Predators and Neal in the last two minutes. Matt Niskanen was holding the puck looking for a passing lane to his partner, Brooks Orpik, on the opposite side of the ice. Backing away from Neal to find that lane, Niskanen probably regrets not having spun a pass back along the wall and around to Alzner. Instead, he tried to thread a pass past Neal, but Neal intercepted it and found himself alone on Holtby. Neal snapped a shot past Holtby’s left pad, and the Predators had the last lead change, the last lead, and the 4-3 win.
-- The two goals by Ovechkin represented his sixth two-goal game of the season and lifted him into a tie for fourth in the league in goals.
-- Mike Green had a pair of assists, his seventh multi-assist game of the season. Green is tied for 12th among defensemen in assists, despite his having played in only 36 games, six to eight fewer than most of the players ahead of him.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had two assists to give him 13 multi-point games this season and points in four of his last five games.
-- The loss was the first in regulation for the Caps in a game in which they outshot an opponent (34-30) since dropping a 4-2 decision to the New York Rangers on December 23rd. That happened to be the Caps’ last regulation time loss until last night.
-- Every Capitals had a shot on goal except Michael Latta, who in 8:15 of ice time did not register a shot attempt.
-- That Flip Forsberg had five shots on goal and eight shot attempts was not especially unusual. You might think that his being credited with four hits for the Predators was as well, but he is fifth on the Predators in that statistic.
-- Brooks Orpik was on ice for all four Nashville goals and none of the Caps’ goals. Account for a power play goal against, and that is the arithmetic to get one to a minus-3.
-- Troy Brouwer had an assist, won seven of nine faceoffs…and was on ice for the first and last Predator goals (anyone for the Caps on ice for the last goal not named “Niskanen” needs to have their “minus” expunged).
-- Niskanen had a very quiet night until the thrilling (for Predator fans) conclusion. 22 minutes and change, one shot on goal, no points, two blocked shots, a hit…oh, and then a giveaway.
-- The four goals allowed was the first time that Braden Holtby allowed four goals in regulation since the 4-2 loss to the Rangers on December 23rd. He had a win-loss record of 7-0-2 until last night’s loss. Moral…stop giving up four goals.
In the end…
The Caps had at least one standings point all sewed up. It came down to a late mistake that wiped out some good work by the Caps to come back against a team that had only three losses in 20 games in their own building going into last night’s game. Would Pekka Rinne allowed fewer than three goals to the Caps? Maybe. As it was, the Caps pushed the home team to the brink before the Predators escaped with their seventh straight win on home ice.
The job now is to keep “one” from becoming ”two,” losses that is, and the Caps get to address that matter tonight against Dallas. Get right back on the horse…fitting, that, in Texas.