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Caps lose third straight third-period lead and game, Ovechkin powers up, Backstrom hits 900, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Disorder In The House - Nashville may be a fine city, but the Capitals have found Bridgestone Arena to be an inhospitable venue on their seasonal tour through the league throughout the course of the current decade. Washington's latest agonizing setback in Music City occurred on Thursday night in a 6-5 loss to the Predators.

The Caps are now 1-6-1 in their last eight visits here and have endured some difficult defeats in this barn during this decade, which is nearly over. Consider these:

Nov. 15, 2011 - Troy Brouwer scores at 15:14 of the third to break a scoreless tie and give the Caps a 1-0 lead. But Nashville answers back just 28 seconds later, and then nets the go-ahead goal and an empty-netter in the last half minute to win 3-1.

March 30, 2014 - Brouwer again scores the game's first goal and adds another in the second, but the Caps fall 4-3 in the shootout in their last game against a Barry Trotz-coached Nashville team. To add injury to insult, Caps defenseman Patrick Wey suffers what proves to be a career-ending injury in a fight against the Preds' Rich Clune.

Jan. 16, 2015 - In Trotz's first game in Nashville as the coach of the Caps, Washington rallies from a 2-0 deficit and takes a 3-2 lead early in the third. Mattias Ekholm's power-play goal ties it at 15:31 of the third and the game appears headed to overtime, but James Neal pounces on a Matt Niskanen turnover with 100 seconds left to hand the Caps a stunning 4-3 loss and spoil Trotz's homecominng.

Feb. 25, 2017 - The Caps take an early lead on Tom Wilson's goal in the second minute of the game, but the Preds score four unanswered to win going away, 5-2.

Nov. 14, 2017 - After falling down 2-0 in the first, the Caps pull even on goals from T.J. Oshie and Alex Chiasson early in the second. But 17 seconds after Chiasson's goal, the Preds strike for the first of three goals in less than three minutes en route to a 6-3 win.

Jan. 15, 2019 - With Braden Holtby unavailable for a scheduled start because of an eye injury, the Caps start Pheonix Copley for the second time in as many nights for the first - and thus far only - time in his NHL career. Nashville scores two in the first and four in the second in a 7-2 rout over the Caps.

The Late Late Blues Thursday's defeat marked the third straight game in which the Caps fell after taking a lead into the third period; they did so only four times in 41 such games (37-3-1) last season. But considering the Caps lost Game 7 of their first-round playoff series against Carolina in the same fashion back on April 24, they've now frittered away third-period leads in four of their last six meaningful games.

"We've found different ways to lose all of these games," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "It's not exactly the same way or the same player. It's certainly not a situation where we said, 'Let's stop playing and sit back.' We're trying to push and trying to figure out how to win as a group. How that looks and feels is being content with putting pucks 200 feet from our net, and forcing them to execute and beat us as opposed to us beating ourselves. If there's one common denominator, I'd say that we're beating ourselves."

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | October 10

Another common denominator is a penchant for taking penalties early in the third while trying to protect those leads. In Saturday's loss to Carolina, Radko Gudas went to the box at 1:59. Carolina scored on the ensuing power play to cut Washington's two-goal lead in half. On Tuesday against Dallas, Jonas Siegenthaler was boxed at 1:30 of the third. The Stars didn't score with the extra man, but it was the first of three third-period power plays for Dallas. In Thursday's loss at Nashville, John Carlson went off at 4:15, and the Preds cut the Caps' two-goal lead in half on the power play.

Taking penalties when protecting a lead in the third is never advisable, but the problem is compounded when the penalties come early in the period and when top penalty-killing defensemen are the ones heading to the box.

For much of the last half decade, Washington has been forceful at locking down late leads. From 2014-15 through 2018-19, the Caps posted a rock solid 186-7-9 record in games in which they led after 40 minutes of play, and their lusty .921 points pct. in such situations was second best in the league only to Pittsburgh (.938) over that span.

"When you have a lead going into the third," says Caps center Lars Eller, "you have to expect the other team to push. I think we failed to match the intensity, and it's almost like we are going back a gear, instead of staying on the offense, staying on our toes. We are slowing down a little bit, and it is just costing us. We talked about it before going out into the period, so it's not like we're not aware, we're just not doing it."

Nine Hundred For Nineteen - Caps center Nicklas Backstrom played in his 900th career game Thursday night in Nashville, slightly more than a dozen years after making his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 2007 in Atlanta against the Thrashers.

"I've been fortunate enough to be behind the bench, and now, having him on my team," says Reirden of Backstrom. "I didn't really like when he was on the opposition, because he is a phenomenal player - so underrated. Nine hundred games, just a model of consistency for me for how he goes about his business.

"He is a tremendous leader for our team, just with how he goes about things preparation-wise, practice habits, his attention to detail. Those are the things I didn't know about until I got here, and he is definitely at the top of our list for all of those things. We are so fortunate, and the people of Washington are just happy to have taken this player into what the Capitals are all about, and to be able to watch him for 900 games is pretty special."

Backstrom has recorded 50 or more assists in each of the last six seasons, one of only two active NHL players to achieve that feat, and one of only 26 players to do so in league history. He is the only player in the league with 20 or more goals and 50 or more assists in each of the last four seasons, and his consistency is one of the things that sets him apart from the rest of the pack.

"Obviously when you first start playing with him, you're pretty amazed at the little things he does that you don't really notice until you're part of it every day," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "His consistency is just outstanding. You know what you're going to get from him. Everyone goes through ups and downs, but he prepares the same way, he works hard every day, and he is a true professional respected by absolutely everyone. He is just a pleasure to play with every day."

Among all players in the history of the league with 900 or more games played, Backstrom's rate of .716 assists per game ranks second among all active players, and 13th among all players in league history. Of the dozen players ahead of him on that list, 11 are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the other - Sidney Crosby - is still active.

"I think he is a guy who goes about his business the right way," says Caps winger Carl Hagelin. "Every single day he shows up, and he's not a super vocal guy but he is a true team guy. He will do whatever it takes to win games. And obviously he has that brain - that mind of his - that is unmatched in the league, I'd say."

Backstrom is the fifth player in Washington's franchise history to play in as many as 900 games in a Caps sweater. He joins Ovechkin (1,089), Calle Johansson (983), Peter Bondra (961) and Kelly Miller (940) in that distinction.

Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | October 10

Victimized - Alex Ovechkin scored two power-play goals in the second period of Thursday's game, marking the first time he has scored against Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne. Rinne becomes the 135th goaltender Ovechkin has victimized in scoring his 661 career goals, and Rinne is the 101st goalie against which the Caps' captain has scored two or more goals.

Double Dip - Ovechkin's two-goal game on Thursday is his 133rd career multi-goal game, leaving him two behind Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gartner (135) for the fourth-most multi-goal games in league history.

Move On Up - With his two power-play goals on Thursday, Ovechkin moved ahead of Hockey Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille and into sole possession of fourth place on the NHL's all-time power-play goals ledger. It's the 21st time in his career that Ovechkin has scored multiple power-play goals in the same game.

With 249 career power-play goals, Ovechkin is now six behind Hockey Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne (255) for third place on that list.

I Can Help - Carlson had three assists in Thursday's game, recording his third multi-point game of the season and the 86th of his NHL career. 

With eight points (one goal, seven assists) on the season, Carlson is Washington's leading scorer, and he has twice as many points as all of his teammates. Carlson also leads all NHL defensemen in scoring, and is tied for third among all NHL players.

The Final Frame - Washington has permitted 16 goals on the season, and eight of them have been scored in the third period. Only New Jersey (nine) has allowed more goals in the third this season.

By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 27:30 in ice time … Eller, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had three shots on net to lead Washington … Carl Hagelin led Washington with five shot attempts … Four different Caps had two hits each to lead the team … Nick Jensen blocked three shots to lead Washington.

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