“It’s a game of inches, and sometimes it’s a game of nuts and bolts, too” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following Washington’s 4-3 loss to Nashville on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.
Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer had a bolt come loose in the third period and that caused him to lose his skate blade on Roman Josi’s game tying tally 8:19 into period three. The equipment issue prevented him from pushing off and making that save. Then with 5:27 remaining, Viktor Arvidsson ripped a shot that #31 couldn’t handle and Ryan Johansen got just enough of the puck, which trickled over the goal line for the game winner. Some fans wanted Coach Trotz to challenge for goaltender interference on Johansen’s marker, but on replay there didn’t appear to be anything of the sort and #31 confirmed to me afterwards that there was no contact with him by anyone.
The victory for Nashville gave them the Central Division title, the first seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and the Presidents’ Trophy. For the Caps, this was pretty much a meaningless affair since they cannot change their playoff position. They’ve already clinched the Metropolitan Division title and will not top the point total of the Atlantic Division winner (Boston or Tampa). Therefore, they will face the 1st Wildcard team in the Eastern Conference.
The Washington Capitals celebrated Alexander Ovechkin’s 1,000th game before Thursday’s tilt against the Predators and the Gr8 delivered for the fans by notching his NHL leading 47th marker of the season. That goal, which was a far post top shelf peanut butter shot, came on the power play 4:29 into period two and tied the game up at one.
Evgeny Kuznetsov was the star of the show for Washington in this affair via his three points. He set up Ovi’s goal with a great pass and also scored twice himself. The first marker for #92, which gave the Caps a 2-1 lead just over two minutes after they tied the game up, came on the power play when he tried to pass back door to Alexander the Great. Preds defensemen, Ryan Ellis, dove to the ice to try and block the pass, but in the process he knocked the puck into his own net. Kuzy’s second goal, an unassisted lamp lighter that gave Washington an early third period 3-2 lead, was set up by a superb one on one move that he topped off with a gorgeous backhander over Juuse Saros (29 saves). Kuznetsov is playing some incredible hockey and he now has 27 goals and 55 assists (82 points) in 78 games played this season. He is the key to the Capitals on most nights.
Nicklas Backstrom added his 49th assist of the season on Evgeny’s first goal but his line, with Andre Burakovksy and T.J. Oshie didn’t have the best of nights. They controlled the puck, for stretches, but none of the three forwards had a single shot on net. There were a couple of times where they over passed the disc or made wrong decisions.
In the first 10 minutes, the Capitals made a lot of mistakes turning the puck over with errant drop or cross ice passes. That allowed the Preds to get the early lead. Once Washington got back to playing the right way, they took over the game for a lengthy amount of time. To start period two they had a 17-2 advantage in shots on goal, but couldn’t get a two puck lead. Saros was good, and when John Carlson (14 shots attempts, including eight on goal) couldn’t bury a great chance in tight, the game turned the visitor’s way.
The Caps would get the lead back in period three on Kuzy’s dazzling backhander, but a penalty on Matt Niskanen set up Josi’s tying marker. Johansen scored shortly after Filip Forsberg went around Dmitry Orlov, who hit the post while in all alone on Grubauer. The Predators got to the loose puck following that miss and an Ellis point shot was saved by #31, but bounced right to Arvidsson in the left wing circle. He fired on net and Johansen outworked Orlov to tap the biscuit home over the outstretched Caps goalie.
Overall, the Caps did numerous good things in this game. They matched the Predators speed and had lots of quality chances, but Saros was the difference. Afterwards Ovechkin said he was mostly pleased with the way the team played, but said next week the game changes. Ovi pointed out that there weren’t many hits in Thursday’s tilt because both teams are saving themselves for the playoffs.
As for Coach Trotz, he liked a lot about the game and felt that the team managed the puck better, especially in the middle frame. When asked about the team’s ability to play the right way, he noted that he allows his players to use their talents at the blue lines, but he demands that they make good decisions with the puck. After a shaky start on Thursday, the Caps did that, for the most part. If they adhere to the “get pucks on net or behind the opposing defenders” mantra in the post season, then this team can compete with anyone.
Notes: Nashville was two for two on the power play. The Caps were two for five, but the last one was a whole half of a second long because the game ended…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts; only four made it on net…shot attempts were 67-63 for the Caps…the Predators won the faceoff battle, 36-29. Oshie went 4-1…Tom Wilson had five of the Caps 24 hits. Ovi had 0 hits, which backs up what he said about saving himself for the playoffs…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:45. Osh Babe led all Capitals forwards with 22:49…Burakovsky broke his stick then was injured blocking a shot in period one. #65 returned to the game to play 12:54…Alex Chiasson started the game, but became ill and couldn’t finish after seven shifts and 4:10 of ice time…Cal Ripken attended the game and said he spoke to the Capitals before the contest…the Caps face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. It looks like the Capitals will play either New Jersey, Philadelphia, or Columbus in the first round of the playoffs since the Pens will likely finish second in the division.