Two nights after ending their four-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Caps came out on the short end of a 2-1 overtime decision against the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center.
Viktor Arvidsson scored from the left circle on a two-on-one rush just over a minute into overtime to hand the Caps their fifth loss in their last six games (1-4-1).
Nashville’s odd-man rush came about as the result of a non-change on the first shift of the extra session; Evgeny Kuznetsov appeared to slow up and signal for a change, but seeing Ryan Johansen spring Arvidsson into the zone, Kuznetsov thought better of it and circled back in pursuit. Alas, it was too late, as Arvdisson slipped a wrist shot past Caps goalie Braden Holtby to make winners out of the Preds.
“It’s not about the change; the change ended up creating the two-on-one,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “It’s the decision to change that created the chance.”
Washington came out of the gates strong in Thursday’s game, controlling the play and the puck for much of the game’s first 20 minutes. The Caps owned a 17-9 advantage in shot attempts in a first period that was played entirely at five-on-five, and they enjoyed that advantage despite having a few shifts of reasonable length in the offensive zone that did not produce any shot attempts, a problem that would crop up here and there throughout the night.
Shortly after the midway mark of the initial period, the Caps scored the game’s first goal. And once again, it was a bottom six forward who supplied that tally.
Lars Eller shook down Nashville’s Kevin Fiala in the right circle of the Nashville end, forcing a turnover down low and creating a two-on-none for his linemates down low. Jakub Vrana scooped up the loose puck and fed Brett Connolly, who quickly deposited it behind Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne for a 1-0 Washington lead at 11:41. Eller was not credited with an assist on the goal, but he was the catalyst.
“It was good to be on them quick and hard,” recounts Vrana. “I ended up there with Conno, and obviously a good job by him. I could have probably shot it myself, but I saw him and he was in a position for a one-timer, so I thought he was in a better position to shoot.”
One of the league’s best second-period teams, Nashville had the better of play in the middle frame. Neither team was able to convert on a power play opportunity in the second, but the Preds were able to pull even with the Caps with just 64 seconds remaining in the frame.
The Caps managed only seven even-strength shot attempts in the second period; they had no shot attempts during their only power play opportunity of the evening and four while the Preds had the extra man.
Washington was in the midst of working the puck around the perimeter of the attack zone when Marcus Johansson – stationed down low on the right side – tried to thread a feed to Dmitry Orlov at the left point. But Preds winger Kevin Fiala stepped in front of Orlov and picked off the pass. Fiala and linemate James Neal took off in transition, and Fiala dropped a pass for Neal along the right wing wall at the Washington line. Neal ripped a shot past Caps goalie Braden Holtby from the right circle to even the contest at 1-1.
Neal’s tying tally came on another of those shifts in which Washington possessed the puck in the Nashville end, but wasn’t able to generate anything in the way of chances with which to test Rinne.
“They collapse pretty hard,” says Trotz of the Predators. “I didn’t think we had the mindset of shooting the puck and getting to the net as much as we need to against them, and it showed a little bit in the shot total.”
A scoreless third produced little in the way of shots or chances for either side, as both clubs seemed content to take the guaranteed point and play for another in the extra session. That set the stage for Arvidsson.
“I saw them changing,” says Arvidsson of the Caps. “And [Johansen] brought it back [to neutral ice], and [Alex] Ovechkin went with him, so there should be a swing guy back there. SO I just took off and Joey made a great pass. I got in on a two-on-one with P.K. [Subban] and I decided to shoot it.”
It was clearly a good decision.
“When you have the puck – especially in the three-on-three – it’s all about possession and decisions,” notes Trotz. “When you don’t have it, you have to be positionally sound and you have to be patient. You can’t make poor decisions and stuff like that. We made an in-between decision, they capitalized on it, and we’re sitting here with one less point than we feel that we could have [had].”