An evenly fought first period over the first half of the first period broke in Nashville’s favor just over nine minutes into the game when Mattias Ekholm scored the game’s first goal. It was a breakdown in motion for the Caps. The scoring play started when Gabriel Bourque cleared the puck out of the defensive zone for the Predators. The puck made it to the Capitals’s blue line where Curtis Glencross tried to settle it, but Glencross lost his footing, and the puck found its way to Ekholm’s stick. He skated in, and with Mike Green playing of him a bit too far, Ekholm skated across the crease and flicked a backhand shot that beat goalie Braden Holtby on the glove side to make it 1-0.
Mike Fisher doubled the Predators’ lead just over two minutes later. With Karl Alzner having lost his stick as a Nashville power play was ending, the Predators managed to maintain pressure in the Caps’ end. A shot by Filpi Forsberg was stopped by Holtby, but the puck bounced out to Fisher in the left wing circle. His shot through a maze of bodies found the back of the net, and it was 2-0.
Three minutes after that, Forsberg had a goal of his own. Mike Ribeiro fed Forsberg skating through center ice, and Forsberg carried it into the Caps’ zone. A wrister from the left wing circle beat Holtby cleanly, and it was 3-0, Holtby finding his day done after just 14:47 of work.
The Caps made a game of it in the second period on a pair of goals by Troy Brouwer. The first of them came just 19 seconds into the period when Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne’s attempted clear around the wall was foiled by Matt Niskanen at the blue line. Niskanen threw the puck at the net where Evgeny Kuznetsov settled it and fired a shot on Rinne. The puck did not find its way through, but it did find its way to Brouwer at the edge of the right wing circle, and with Rinne down he lifted it over the sprawled goalie and in, making it 3-1.
Brouwer scored again in the eighth minute as the Caps were shorthanded. A Roman Josi pass to Forsberg exiting the Nashvill zone was not controlled by Forsberg, and Brooks Laich collected the loose puck at the red line. Laich skated into the Nashville and slid the puck to Brouwer entering on his right. Brouwer took one step and fired a shot that Rinne might want back, the puck darting past his left pad making it 3-2 7:32 into the period.
The Caps would get no closer. Mike Ribeiro restored the two goal lead for Nashville mid-way through the period when Forsberg beat Brooks Orpik to a loose puck in the corner to relief goalie Justin Peters’ left. He backhanded the puck into the middle where Ribeiro redirected it in, making it 4-2 at 11:56 of the second period.
The Caps got back within a goal in the first minute of the third period, Mike Green one-timing a feed from Niskanen from the left-wing circle. Rinne closed the door from there, however, turning away the Caps’ last nine shots of the contest, and Nashville had a 4-3 win to sweep the season series.
-- Braden Holtby had gone 55 straight starts without being pulled in a contest before he was relieved in a 4-2 loss to Dallas on March 13th. His latest streak of not being pulled from games lasted five games before being relieved just 14:47 into Saturday’s game. It was his first no-decision since he had one in the first game from which he was pulled this season, a 6-5 loss to San Jose on October 14th.
-- Justin Peters allowed only one goal on 14 shots in relief of Holtby, but he was tagged with the loss. In his last four contests he has stopped 88 of 96 shots (13 of 14 against Nashville) for a respectable .917 save percentage.
-- On a day when the Caps struggled early and often, Troy Brouwer ended up a plus-3, his best such mark in a game this season and his best as a Capital. The last time he was a plus-3 was in a 7-2 win over San Jose when he played for the Chicago Blackhawks back on November 25, 2009. His second goal of the game was his 20th, making it two straight seasons with 20 or more goals and three in his nine-year career.
-- Six of one, a half dozen of the other…shots and hits, that is, for Alex Ovechkin. No points, though, the first time he has gone three or more games without a point since mid-December.
-- Nicklas Backstrom has also gone three games without a point and in this game failed to record a shot on goal for the third time in his last six games. He does not have a goal since February 19th, a streak of 16 games and counting.
-- John Carlson had four shots, 12 shot attempts, and 23 minutes of ice time. He was also charged with five giveaways.
-- The Caps punished the Predators physically, if hits are an indicator. They were credited with 45 hits to 17 for the Preds. Brooks Orpik had ten of his own.
-- Filip Forsberg recorded his first three-point game for Nashville since he recorded a goal and a pair of assists in a 4-3 loss to St. Louis on November 13th.
-- The four even strength goals allowed by the Caps was the first time they allowed four goals at even strength since January 27th in a 4-3 loss to Columbus.
-- The Caps went 0-for-3 on the power play, their fourth straight game without a power play goal, their longest such drought since going four straight without a power play goal, November 14-20.
In the end…
Nashville is a very good team, but on a day when the Predators were missing elite defenseman Shea Weber and the Boston Bruins were beating the New York Rangers to close put more pressure on the Caps in the standings, this had to be considered an opportunity passing them by. They simply dug themselves too deep a hole too early and got less-than-needed games from the guys who need to play big at this time of year – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Holtby Perhaps they were looking ahead to the Sunday afternoon game in New York against the Rangers, but at this point looking ahead at all is an invitation to looking ahead to tee times in April.