Ended At Eight – A pair of Washington streaks were halted at eight on Thursday night in a 3-1 loss to the Senators in Ottawa. The Caps’ eight-game winning streak went by the wayside as did the Capitals’ streak of eight straight road games with at least a point.
Although the Caps never trailed by more than a goal until the game’s final seconds, it never really felt like they were in this one.
“Quite honestly, right from the start,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of his team’s struggles. “We got behind with the two penalties that gave them some momentum and we really almost never dug ourselves out of that. We had a couple flurries at time but our execution was the worst we had in a long time.”
According to Oates, it was a failure to execute that doomed the Caps and their streaks in Ottawa.
“We didn’t put pucks on guys tape,” he laments, “we whiffed on shots, we weren’t smooth off draws and all those things end up adding up. And you’ve got a team that’s playing good over there. Before you know it, it’s hard and it’s tough sledding. They didn’t give us anything. And in saying that, with five minutes left it’s a 2-1 game.”
Ottawa took advantage of a couple of early power play opportunities in the first period to seize momentum. The Capitals were called for two minor penalties in the first 6:22 of the game, and with just 69 seconds separating the end of the first kill and the beginning of the second.
Washington killed off both minors without incident, but it was continually hemmed in its own end of the ice. The Sens owned a 13-3 lead in shot attempts after the first 11:42 of play and were up 23-5 in that category with 1:04 remaining in the first. The Caps narrowed it to 23-7 by period’s end.
The Caps had the intermission to regroup, but the Sens didn’t let up in the second. Ottawa grabbed a 1-0 lead just 75 seconds into the second frame. Kyle Turris came down the right wing wall with Caps defenseman Karl Alzner right with him. Turris wound up for a shot, and just as he did Alzner’s stick collided with the puck and Turris’ twig. The resulting change of direction fooled Caps goalie Braden Holtby.
Just past the four-minute mark of the second, Ottawa owned a 32-7 lead in shot attempts.
Washington drew even just after the second television timeout of the second frame. Mike Ribeiro retrieved the puck after the Caps lost an offensive zone draw, and he passed to Steve Oleksy at the right point. Oleksy passed to partner Jack Hillen along the Ottawa line, and Hillen lofted the puck down toward the left corner. While the puck was in midair, Caps left wing Martin Erat neatly redirected it to the far side of the cage where Ribeiro was lurking at the post. The Caps center tapped it past Sens goalie Craig Anderson for his 13th goal of the season.
Two minutes and change after Ribeiro’s goal altered the complexion of the contest, Holtby made a rare mistake with the puck. He stopped it behind his own net and tried to pass to defenseman Karl Alzner on the left side of the cage. But his blind pass was too long and it eluded Alzner. Worse, it went right to Sens forward Cory Conacher who promptly snapped it into the yawning twine to give Ottawa a 2-1 lead it would not relinquish.
“It’s just one of those rush plays,” rues Holtby. “I had to make a blind pass and I didn’t execute it on the tape. It’s one of those that you want back but you can’t let it let it dwell on you. It happens. They had a hard forecheck all game and they caused that turnover.”
Only in the final four shifts of the second period did the Caps look like the team that had won eight straight games. Each of Washington’s four lines finished the middle frame with a strong offensive zone shift. The Caps’ fourth line of Aaron Volpatti, Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle might have cobbled together the best of those four shifts, they kept the Sens hemmed in with a churning cycle that spanned the better part of a minute.
“That was probably the best wave we had in the game, in the second half of the second period,” says Oates. “But all in all, we really weren’t in the game, I didn’t feel. We were fighting an uphill battle with our execution and decisions.”
Washington wasn’t able to bridge that late momentum into the third period. Down 47-21 in shot attempts after 40 minutes of play, the Caps got an early chance for an equalizer in the third. Marcus Johansson has been extremely adept at drawing penalties for the Capitals this season and he used his speed to coerce a Chris Phillips tripping minor at the 59-second mark of the third.
The Caps couldn’t cash in. They had one shot on goal on the power play, and that turned out to be the only shot on goal Washington could muster in the first half of the third period. John Carlson made a great pass to spring Eric Fehr on a breakaway juts past the 11-minute mark of the third, but Anderson thwarted that attempt, the best one Washington would have at drawing even.
Turris iced it with an empty-netter late to give the Sens their fourth straight win.
“They were well-positioned today,” says Ribeiro. “If the play is not there and you hold it for half a second more, then you have to change what you’re trying to do and it disrupts everyone. Obviously it wasn’t our best game or our best start. We had trouble with the puck and without the puck. We lot a lot of one-on-one battles around the boards, too. But it’s one out of 48 and we need to put it behind us.
“We’ve lost a lot of games this year that we’ve bounced back from and that’s how we have to approach the next one. There’s nothing we can do about this one. We have to be focused and be ready for a big game against Montreal on Saturday.”
“They played well,” says Oates of the Senators. “They played a good game and I don’t think we played our game. I think we were sloppy in our execution and that gave them more opportunities to have the puck than they should have. And before you know it, the rink’s tipped a little bit in their favor.”
Combined with Winnipeg’s Thursday night win over Carolina, the Caps’ setback to the Sens shrunk their Southeast Division lead to just two points with four games remaining.
“We didn’t play a solid game tonight,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “They really spread us out throughout the neutral zone, created a lot of offense and it was tough to get the puck back and do our thing. They played a good game. For whatever reason, we didn’t have it tonight and were flat. We had glimpses of good shifts but we just couldn’t grasp that momentum and keep it going.”
Nick Nicked – Caps center Nicklas Backstrom left the game in the latter half of the third period after apparently taking a Mike Green slapshot off his elbow.
“He took a hard slapper from Greenie there,” says Oates. “Upper body [injury], we’ll evaluate him [Friday].”
Seconds – The Caps had been making a killing in the second period during the life of their eight-game winning streak. Washington outscored its foes by a combined total of 19-4 in the second period of those eight games.
In Thursday’s game against the Sens, the Caps scored only one second-period goal while giving up two. It marked the first time the Capitals have been outscored in the second period of a game since March 30 in Buffalo when the Sabres outscored the Caps 2-1 in the middle frame of a game that Washington won by a 4-3 count in a shootout.
Backline Fuel – With Hillen’s assist on Ribeiro’s goal, Washington defensemen have now had a hand in 20 of the team’s 31 goals over its last nine games.
Eleven – With his goal, Ribeiro ran his scoring streak to four games (one goal, six points). He has 13 goals and 44 points in 44 games this season and is tied for 11th in the NHL in scoring. Ribeiro is tied with Backstrom for second on the team in scoring.
Ribeiro needs six points in the Caps’ final four games to reach the 50-point plateau for a ninth straight season.
By The Numbers – Green led the Caps with 22:24 in ice time; Ovechkin paced the forwards with 21:30 … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on goal and seven shot attempts … Troy Brouwer led the Caps with four hits … John Erskine led the Capitals with four blocked shots … Mike Zibanejad led the Sens with seven shots on net … Sixteen of Ottawa’s 18 skaters had at least one shot on net in the game.