Last season, the Washington Capitals lost only four of 41 games (37-3-1) in which they led after 40 minutes of play. Five games into the 2019-20 campaign, they've already dropped three games in which they owned a lead heading into the third period.
On Thursday night in Nashville, the Caps cautiously ushered a 4-2 lead into the third period in a building that has been a house of horrors for them over the last decade. For the third straight game, they lost the lead and the game, falling 6-5 to the Predators. This time, they lost in regulation and didn't collect the point for going to overtime.
Video: WSH Recap: Ovechkin scores twice in 6-5 loss
Nashville struck twice in a span of 70 seconds early in the third to knot the score at 4-4, scoring on consecutive shots. The Caps regained the lead on a T.J. Oshie goal midway through the third, but the opportunistic Preds again struck for two goals on consecutive shots -- this time in a span of just 28 seconds - leaving the Caps without a point for the first time in five games this season (2-1-2).
"We have to manage the puck, obviously," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, who had a pair of power-play goals in the game. "We're too good to make bad mistakes, and we talked about it before the third period. We have manage the puck right, and you can see we make a turnover and make mistakes, and it cost us again, two points."
The Caps got on the board first, taking a 1-0 lead just ahead of the midpoint of the initial period. John Carlson made a heady play, carrying down from the right point into the right circle, and weaving around a trio of Preds. He fed Garnet Hathaway, who was stationed just off the paint on the left side. From there, Hathaway found Lars Eller for a tap in from the top of the paint, giving the Capitals their first lead in Nashville in more than 160 minutes of playing time, dating back to February of 2017.
Video: WSH@NSH: Eller sends puck home off Hathaway's pass
The advantage lasted less than two minutes.
Washington missed connecting on a pass in neutral ice, and the Preds pounced quickly. Mattias Ekholm collected the puck and pushed it up the wall to Mikael Granlund, who bumped it to Matt Duchene. Duchene sprung Filip Forsberg into the Caps zone, and Forsberg deked and beat Braden Holtby to knot the score at 1-1 at 10:39.
The Caps killed off a pair of Preds power plays in the back half of the first to keep the game even.
Washington put up a crooked number in the middle frame, doing all of its damage on special teams. At 4:46 of the second, Carlson put the puck on a tee for Ovechkin, and the captain pumped a one-timer past Pekka Rinne from the top of the left circle, restoring the Caps' lead at 2-1. It was Ovechkin's first career goal against the Nashville netminder in seven career games.
The lead lasted slightly longer this time, but the Preds pulled even again before the period was halfway over. Calle Jarnkrok got hold of the puck along the half wall in Washington ice, and went cross rink to Viktor Arvidsson in neutral ice, sparking a 2-on-1 for Nashville. Arvidsson fed Ryan Johansen on the left side, and he used his long reach to sweep a shot past Holtby at 7:37, tying the game at 2-2.
Washington was under siege in its own end for a couple of shifts midway through the period, and it went a man down, putting itself in perilous straits. Just after Nashville carried into Washington ice on the power play, Chandler Stephenson forced a turnover on the left half wall, and passed the puck to Tom Wilson, joining him on a 2-on-1 rush. Wilson called his own number, beating Rinne with a wrister from just above the left circle at 12:28.
Video: WSH@NSH: Wilson tallies shorthanded goal in the 2nd
Just over five minutes later, Carlson teed up another Ovechkin blast on the power play, enabling the Caps to open up a multi-goal lead at 17:36. They took that two-goal advantage into the third, but it didn't last until the first television timeout.
With Carlson off for hooking, Johansen netted his second goal of the night on a Nashville power play, cutting the lead to 4-3 at 5:03. Just over a minute later, the Preds came 200 feet to tie it at 4-4 on a Matt Duchene goal at 6:13.
Washington coach Todd Reirden called his timeout at this juncture, and for a brief span, the Caps seemed to turn - or at least stem - the tide. Caps winger Brendan Leipsic laid a hard hit on Nashville defenseman Matt Irwin shortly thereafter, and Washington seemed to derive some energy from that play. A couple shifts later, the Caps forged their fourth lead of the night on Oshie's goal, off a fine feed from Dmitry Orlov at 10:09.
But again, Washington couldn't close the deal. Nick Bonino tied it at 5-5, bouncing a shot off Holtby from in tight at 14:52. Less than half a minute later, Mattias Ekholm's left point drive closed out the scoring for the night, sending the Caps on to Dallas with their seventh loss in their last eight visits (1-6-1) to Nashville.
"It's happened in a couple of different ways," says Reirden of the Caps' string of third-period tribulations, "where momentum is being turned in the opposition's favor. But it's really from us. The play with the puck when you have the lead is not giving ourselves a chance to have success, and in turn we're giving up way too many chances.
"A lot of failure to execute; that's coming out of [defensive] zone, or breakouts or just certain plays where we're not sharp, and it's ending up in the back of our net."
The Caps move on to Dallas next; they'll have an off day there on Friday before facing the Stars for the second time this week on Saturday night.