Caps Lose Late in Music City

November 16, 2011 | Ed Frankovic

In a hockey game that had end to end action and two goalies playing at the top of their respective abilities, the Washington Capitals snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by giving up the winning goal with 24 seconds left in regulation. The Predators then hit the empty net and a Caps team that played hard for the large majority of the night and for the most part worked its’ tails off, will leave the Music City 3-1 losers. The loss drops the Caps to 10-5-1 and their next contest is Thursday night in Winnipeg.

Here are the highlights and analysis from an extremely entertaining game that had a very frustrating ending for Caps fans:

– Tomas Vokoun (28 saves) and Pekka Rinne (39 saves) put on a goaltending clinic for the first 55 minutes. Both teams had quality chances with some memorable saves being Rinne’s behind the back glove stop on Marcus Johansson in tight and Vokoun’s pad denial on Mike Fisher’s clean shorthanded breakaway. Rinne made several good glove saves but if the hard working Capitals were guilty of one thing, it was a lack of traffic on the Predators goalie. Vokoun can’t be faulted on the first goal, and more on that a little later, but on the second goal he was a little bit too aggressive and that led to a vacant cage for the game winner by Colin Wilson. Still, Vokoun played well enough to win but some guys let down after Washington took a lead with just under five minutes to go.

– I thought the Caps worked very hard and carried the play for the second and third periods and when Troy Brouwer beat Rinne with 4:46 left it looked like the Caps would take two points to the Honky Tonks on Broadway after this one. But Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau then made a personnel move he probably regrets. He completed the line change that put Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom out with Brouwer for the ensuing faceoff. In addition, blue liners Karl Alzner and Roman Hamrlik came off for Jeff Schultz and John Carlson. Yes, this was the way the rotation was working out, but that late in the game it might have been wise for Bruce, knowing that the Predators were going to come with massive energy, to put a checking line out against the Nashville top line. Instead, d-man Shea Weber (1 goal, 1 assist, +3) came pinching down the right side past his man, Ovechkin, and around Jeff Schultz, who was frozen like an orange road cone, and fed a streaking Martin Erat down the slot for the game winner. Both Carlson and Backstrom did not do their job to protect the center of the ice. It was a horrible shift by the players from perhaps a crew that shouldn’t have been on the ice at a critical time. The way the Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, and Mike Knuble line was dominating play in the final period, they were the better choice, but hindsight is always 20/20. I’m sure Bruce will make a note of this and it will likely influence his thought process going forward.

– After that, the Caps had some more chances but Rinne did his job and then a game that should have gone to overtime, didn’t. John Erskine and Dennis Wideman got running around in their own end and when Erskine lost his stick, he became vulnerable. Vokoun then overcommited to Erat, who went around #29 to the side of the net and then niftily slid the puck to Wilson in the slot for a tap in. Game over.

– Despite the loss, there was a lot of good in this contest for Washington. They played hard and they skated well, except for the one shift that led to the tying goal. Joel Ward, playing on a line with Johansson and Cody Eakin, had a superb effort against his former teammates. Alexander Semin had his best game in a month, despite taking another lazy penalty (caused by reaching with his stick instead of moving his feet). #28 had some good chances in the first period but just couldn’t beat Rinne.

– Boudreau mixed up his defensive pairs with Mike Green still out due to a groin injury and with Hamrlik playing with Alzner, #44 had his best game in weeks. King Karl is quite the steadying influence. The other two d-pairs were the shakier ones. Wideman is so good he can carry a slower Erskine. Carlson has the speed to cover for the immobile Schultz, but he doesn’t have the defensive zone savvy to do it all of the time and ultimately it was that d-pair that was abused on the goal that turned the whole game around. Get well soon #52.

– So a great effort is rewarded with 0 points against a very good Nashville team. The entire team will likely have a tough time sleeping after this game. They deserved better, but then again, if you relax for one shift in this league, the talent level is so even that it will come back to bite you, and that is what happened on Tuesday night in Nashville.

Notes: Mathieu Perreault was the forward scratch…Ovechkin and Backstrom were both -2 (although the last one was an empty net goal)…Washington won the face-off battle, 33-29. Hendricks went 4-0 and Backstrom 11-7…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the PP, including about a half of a minute of 5 on 3 time. Nashville went 0 for 2 in 2:32 of power play time. Green did not travel to Nashville with the Caps, who practice tomorrow at 1pm CST at the Bridgestone Arena before departing for Winnipeg.