Nashville might be known as the country music capital, but when the Caps left town after Tuesday night's game with the Predators, they were feeling the blues. The Preds thwarted the Caps' bid for a three-game winning streak, humbling Washington by a 6-3 count.
The game - and the Capitals' two-game road trip - got off to an inauspicious start. Nashville's Craig Smith hit the goalpost nine seconds into the game, and 10 seconds later the Caps went shorthanded when Brooks Orpik was sent off for hooking. It was the start of perhaps the Capitals' most lackluster period of the season to date.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | November 14
"We didn't deserve to win," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We weren't ready to go. In the first period, [the Predators] won every puck battle, every puck race. They got back to the front of our net really quick, and they were getting tips. They were just more determined than us in the first period.
"It was ugly. It was ugly. We didn't get a lot of shots, and early when we did, they got good sticks on it, or we put it into a shin pad or a skate, or we missed the net. They were coming."
The Orpik minor was the first of four penalties whistled against Washington in the game's first frame. The Caps successfully snuffed out three of those Nashville power play opportunities, but the Preds broke the seal on the scoresheet on the delayed portion of the other of those calls on the Caps.
Video: WSH Recap: Oshie scores a pair in 6-3 defeat
Kevin Fiala's shot from the left point ramped off the stick of Caps' defender Dmitry Orlov, and then was deflected again as Smith tipped it past Caps goalie Braden Holtby for a 1-0 Nashville lead at 11:48. The Caps believed play should have been blown dead before the goal; they thought they'd touched the puck along the right half wall before the Fiala shot.
The Preds doubled that advantage to 2-0 when Nick Bonino tipped a Roman Josi shot behind Holtby at 17:43 of the first. At that point of the proceedings, Nashville owned a 16-0 lead in shots on net.
Washington had virtually nothing going on offensively in the first period. Most of the Caps' shot tries in the first went directly into shin pads; they didn't record their first shot on net until the 17:49 mark of the period.
The Caps sprung to life early in the second, tying the score with a pair of goals that came just under two minutes apart. First, T.J. Oshie tipped a John Carlson center point shot behind Preds goalie Pekka Rinne on a Washington power play at 4:29 of the second.
Washington went right back to work, and the Lars Eller line turned in a boss shift in the Nashville end of the ice. The trio worked the puck and the Preds, getting a full change of personnel as the Caps' fourth line gradually took the ice while the weary Predators remained.
Alex Chiasson tied it at 6:28, taking a feed from Brett Connolly and pumping it past Rinne from the high slot. Alas, that would be the high water mark for the Capitals on this night in Nashville.
Seventeen seconds later, the Preds regained the lead. The Caps were guilty of mismanaging the puck down low in their own end, and Filip Forsberg scored an unassisted goal at 6:45 to put the Preds back on top, 3-2.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | November 14
"We had a lot of momentum there," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "At the start of the second, we popped a couple of goals, and the next shift they get one. That took a little wind out of our sails, and things kind of snowballed from there."
Nashville netted another tip-in tally - its third tip goal of the night - at 9:04 of the middle frame, Fiala getting a stick on a Mattias Ekholm shot that put the Predators up by two goals once again.
This time, it was the Capitals who responded just 17 seconds later. Oshie finished off a pretty passing sequence from linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Chandler Stephenson, pulling the Caps to within a goal at 4-3 before the midpoint of the contest.
Just as Nashville's third goal was a bit of back-breaker, so was its fifth one. With 5:44 remaining in the second, Miikka Salomaki's shot from distance glanced off Holtby's glove and fell into the net behind him, putting the Caps down two once more.
Video: Caps 365 | November 14
"The main thing is that fifth goal just can't go in," rues Holtby. "We're still in the game."
Things got worse late in the frame when Oshie was sent off for a hi-sticking penalty incurred behind the Nashville net. Eight seconds later, Ekholm scored the Predators' fourth goal of the period, making it a 6-3 game with two minutes remaining in the middle period.
Philipp Grubauer came on in relief of Holtby to start the third, and he stopped all six shots he faced the rest of the way.
"Our first period stunk," says Niskanen. "We dug a hole. We played a lot harder in the second two periods, and we played a lot better, but when you're playing catch-up, you have to open the game up, and that's when you see scores like that, 6-3."