Long before they got to Nashville for Sunday night's game against the Predators, the Capitals knew they had their work cut out for them over their final handful of games if they're going to make the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. And before the puck even dropped on the second half of the weekend's back-to-back tilts, Washington knew the bigger-picture task at hand was made even tougher by virtue of a Detroit win earlier in the afternoon which dropped them to four points behind the seventh-place Wings (idle Columbus held the eighth and final playoff spot entering the day's action, two points ahead of Washington with the same number of games played).
So with eight games left on the slate and an opportunity against a middling team, the Caps were certainly approaching "must-win" territory, their margin for error all but vanished and their reliance on outside help suddenly failing again.
But the errors were there and the fail... that was too, as the Caps lost 4-3 in a shootout on a night when they really needed two points.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Just over four minutes into the game, the Caps opened the scoring. At even-strength. With a goal from a top-six forward. No, you didn't misread that, it actually happened, and it was the result of Nicklas Backstrom's fantastic patience and hands, Mike Green's vision and deft touch, and Troy Brouwer's ability to hit an empty net. Certainly an encouraging start for the good guys, whose top-six production at even strength has been abysmal since the Olympic break.
- And then... the Caps Caps'd. With a defensive-zone face-off a minute-and-a-half later, Adam Oates put out his "top line" of Marcus Johansson, Jay Beagle and Alex Ovechkin, with his a mixed defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and Patrick Wey. Beagle lost the draw clean, Jaroslav Halak couldn't control a Shea Weber blast from the point and Wey lost Patric Hornqvist, who easily deposited the rebound. By my math, that was the 28th time this season the Caps have yielded a goal within two minutes after scoring one. That's... not good. And it's not a coincidence. Oh, and Ovechkin gets one of those famous minuses for that. Great stat. (Not that it's nothing that he's now DFL in the League in that metric, mind you.)
- A couple of minutes later (a lot going on early, eh?), Rich Clune took exception to Wey stepping up on him and impeding his progress up ice or something, so Clune - who is second in the League in fighting majors this season - decided to fight Wey... who has one 2009 fight in the USHL on his career fight card. Clune dropped Wey, whose night was done for all intents and purposes (shoutout to Green on his monster minutes as a result). RIP, The Code. (Also, if looks could kill, they'd have to lock Tom Wilson up for life for the eyes he was shooting at Clune in the moments after the latter finished Wey off.)
- Before the first period was over, the Caps had a 2-on-1 rush with Ovechkin carrying the puck down the right wing and Evgeny Kuznetsov streaking down the left. But the captain failed to do anything of value with the puck, instead getting it knocked off his stick by Shea Weber, and as the puck went back to neutral, Backstrom misplayed a loose puck right onto Hornqvist's stick for a breakaway tally. Rather than possibly taking the lead, the Caps yielded it, as a result of careless play in the neutral zone, an all too common occurrence this season.
- Speaking of stats, did you know that Martin Erat has as many even-strength points for the Caps this year as Marcus Johansson, in 20 fewer games played? It's true!
- If you peeped our game day graphic (and if you didn't, why not?), one thing that probably stood out to you as an area where Washington might have a decent advantage over Nashville, it was the Caps' top-ranked power play against the Preds' 25th-rated penalty kill. Sure enough, on their third power play of the night - and second back-to-back - Brouwer tied the game up with some hard work and a bit of luck in front. Brouwer 2, Hornqvist 2.
- That's where the second period would end, despite the Predators taking it to the Caps at even-strength. In fact, to that point, in the eight periods the Caps had played this week (against LA, Boston and Nashville), the Caps had only taken 29 of the 88 unblocked shot attempts that were taken in "close" situations at five-on-five. Translation: they were dominated at evens when it mattered.
- Weber bomb. 3-2 Preds. Ugh. (Okay, you want some analysis on that one? Johansson should have been in better position to defend the pass or the shot, because that shot... lordy. Minus-three for Johansson, by the way.)
- Four minutes later, the Caps went back to the power play and, wouldn't ya know it, they scored again, this time Backstrom on a rare shot from the noted distributor. Needless to say, if this team does make it to the playoffs, it will be on the back of their power play. To overtime and then the shootout we'd go...
The Caps managed a single point on a weekend in which they faced a pair of back-up goalies, and frequently looked as if that was fine with them. The desperation wasn't there nearly as often as it needed to be, and now there's even less margin for error and more need for outside help. But if the Caps can't help themselves, what does it matter?