Tonight the Washington Capitals took their show on the road to face the Nashville Predators. On paper, the Predators have less skill than the Capitals, but they play a disciplined and hard-working game, exactly the kind of team that has given the Caps fits during Bruce Boudreau's tenure. The Caps came out, fought hard, and did the little things. They spent the first 55 minutes grinding out a textbook road game, not getting frustrated that they were unable to unleash their high-flying offensive players. Finally the Caps' patience paid off as Troy Brouwer sniped a go-ahead goal with less than five minutes remaining. And then everything unraveled as the Caps seemed to lose their defensive focus, and went home with a 3-1 defeat.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Homecomings are always a nice storyline in the NHL, and while neither Joel Ward nor Tomas Vokoun are technically from Nashville, they've combined for 642 games wearing the Predators jersey. Suffice it to say, neither player left this game happy.
- Over the last several months, the Capitals' coaching staff has been trying to work with Alex Ovechkin to change up his attack. Tonight Boudreau moved Ovechkin to the right side, maybe in an attempt to force Ovechkin to move away from his off-wing-cut-to-the-middle-and-shoot move.
- Thanks to Mike Green's second injury on the season, the Predators boasted the two best defensemen on the ice tonight in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. And late in the first the Caps had an opportunity to do some damage while both of the Predators big guns on D were in the box. Unfortunately the Caps only mustered one great chance, and Pekka Rinne was there to make the save on Brooks Laich.
- The Caps may not have had the big name D tonight, but they have the deeper D corps. The lack of defensive depth seemed to show when the Caps took a late lead on Brouwer's beautiful goal. The Predators were caught with their third pair on the ice and they were no match for Marcus Johansson's speed up the ice, resulting in the first goal of the game.
- Of course, the Caps defensive depth seemed to disappear after they took the lead, as four different defenders were individually embarrassed. Jeff Schultz got walked and John Carlson lost his man and failed to cut off the centering pass. Tie game. Then, in the final minute, both Dennis Wideman and John Erskine lost their defensive positioning and allowed free Predators all around Vokoun's net, with Colin Wilson banging home the game winner.
- There are two kinds of men in this world: Those with loaded guns, and those that dig. Brooks Laich had the loaded gun all night, as he was firing away from all angles, ending up with 7 shots on net, and several more blocked or wide. Unfortunately, there was no Tuco to Laich's Blondie, and Laich's line was unable to unearth any treasure.
- Recently a lot has been made of Semin's penchant for penalties, and Boudreau's response. Tonight Semin extended his penalty-streak to 5 games, and 9 of the last 11. Say what you will about the soft calls, and many of the calls were soft, including tonight's, but that's simply unacceptable from one of the team's most important players. It's hard not to notice that at least 3 of Semin's 4 total shots came before he was whistled for the penalty.
- One could question why Boudreau would send out the top line with less than five minutes left in the game, immediately following Brouwer's go-ahead goal. At some points in a game, that move would make sense, but in a tight checking road game, we'd like to see Boudreau respond with Laich's line, keep the momentum, and thwart any quick answer from the Predators. Of course, Boudreau assuredly didn't expect such a weak effort from his top unit on what would end up their last shift of the night. Until the empty net shift. Of course.
- The Caps struggled on the PK early in the season, but have now killed 22 of the last 23 opposition power plays. While it's an unsustainable pace, it's surely more representative than the rough start to the season, and hopefully a sign that the new pieces are finally feeling comfortable and integrated into the Caps' systems.
- Zero goals through 55 minutes, 4 goals in the final five minutes. Probably not the way most people saw the game unfolding, but such is life. You'd like to see the Caps crack down and strangle the life out of the last 4+ minutes of the game after taking the lead, but instead they seemed to lose all the defensive focus and discipline that had gotten them the 1-0 lead. Tie game, and overtime once again seemed inevitable. And then one more defensive breakdown and an empty net goal happened.
And so a game that promised to leave Caps fans with at least something positive after 55 minutes ends up leaving Caps fans wondering how it could all go so wrong, so fast. Fans were teased with disciplined play, tight defensive coverage, and reliable goaltending. And then when they tasted the slightest bit of success they reverted to their old ways, and left us all wondering what just happened, and where the killer instinct was (two straight losses in which the Caps had a lead, 3 of the last 4 losses overall). A chance for two points is missed, and the Caps move on to their next game in Winnipeg.