The Caps rolled into the other nation’s capital hanging on to two eight-game streaks - one a winning streak that’s allowed them to build up a four-point cushion for the division lead, the other a streak of eight straight road games with at least a point (dating back to their regulation loss in Pittsburgh almost a month ago).
Unfortunately both of those would come to an end in tonight’s potential playoff preview, a lackluster performance for the good guys which was at times lopsided, at times flukey and for large portions downright somnambulant.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps got an early start on trotting out their 29th-ranked penalty kill, taking two penalties in the game’s first seven minutes just to show they could. Thankfully they also got an early start on showing how their penalty kill has improved - at least marginally - of late, as they held Ottawa without a shot through both man-advantages and killed off all three penalties they'd take on the night.
- Oddly enough that was just about the only time the Sens couldn’t get pucks through to the net, as they ratcheted up the shot count early and often - 38 shots in all by the end of this one (with another 30 blocked or missing the target), outshooting the Caps by a perfect two-to-one ratio.
- That shot count should give you a pretty clear picture of what the night was like for Braden Holtby, who was spectacular at times as he tried to keep his team in the game. Strange night for him, though, as he made some pretty amazing saves throughout but should have had the Senators’ first goal, and pretty much gift-wrapped what would become the game-winner. Of course usually the Caps’ offense would be able to bail him out, but alas...
- At the other end of the rink, Craig Anderson turned aside just about everything he faced (although the Caps did a noble job of putting a dent in his stomach, as well) and made two particularly sharp - and important - saves, one on Alex Ovechkin and another on a semi-breakaway by Eric Fehr. If the Caps were going to win tonight, they would have needed at least three goals - and Anderson’s only given up three or more goals in four starts this year. Out of 19. Yeah... he’s not bad.
- This was not Ovechkin’s best night, something we haven’t gotten to say in a while (and something we haven’t missed, to be honest) as the captain was pretty well shut down by Ottawa's defense. By the end of the night he had managed to pick up four shots on goal, but three of those came in the third period and only one was particularly threatening. His line was also out for all three Ottawa goals - hard to tag any of them with the blame for the goals specifically, but you'd like to see that empty-netter be a little hard to score.
- The lone piece of offense in this one for the Caps was also something on which they can build, as it came about as a result of some second-line forechecking and a very cool pass from Martin Erat to Mike Ribeiro. Erat was able to corral a bouncing puck long enough to bounce it over to Ribeiro, who bounced it over an unsuspecting Anderson. A nice play to break the shutout, some chemistry from the second line and Ribeiro’s first even-strength point since March 26... all good things.
- Not to be outdone by his new teammate, Holtby had a pretty nice pass of his own in this one. Problem was that it landed on the stick of someone who wasn’t his teammate, although I'm sure Cory Conacher was quite appreciative. Given the way he plays the puck, it’s not that surprising that he got burned - more surprising that he doesn’t get burned more often, actually.
- Not only did Jack Hillen pick up yet another point with an assist on the Ribeiro goal, but he also was one of just two Caps - Steven Oleksy was the other - to finish a plus-one on the night. Hillen for Norris!! (...not really, but he has been quite good lately.)
- The Caps and Sens are actually fairly even as far as faceoff strengths go, but you wouldn’t know it tonight, as the Caps got smacked around in the dot en route to a 20-for-51 finish (39%). One more area where they just didn’t seem ready to play in an all-around sloppy game for the good guys.
- Nothing about this game was particularly pleasant, but the worst part had to be in the third period when everyone realized that Nicklas Backstrom had missed two straight shifts, followed shortly after by the news that he was out with an upper-body injury. Being struck by friendly fire is about par for the course tonight, and here's hoping it's no worse than a splinter - because the Caps can ill afford to lose Backstrom for any extended length of time.
Obviously this team wasn’t going to remain unbeaten all the way to the postseason (as awesome as that would have been), so a loss to snap an eight-game winning streak isn’t all that unexpected. Nor is it any reason to panic, as the Caps are still in control of their division and their destiny.
But this wasn’t a pretty one to watch or a fun one for that matter. So just as they learned from the near-implosion against Tampa, here’s hoping they learn from their sluggish performance tonight (and get Backstrom all healed up, stat). Because Montreal lies just ahead... and beyond them, what is turning out to be a huge meeting with the Jets.