Three second-period goals were the difference on Saturday afternoon in Nashville as the Capitals absorbed a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Predators in Music City. The setback was just the second in regulation for the Caps in the month of February (8-2-1) and just the team's second loss by a margin of more than one goal in nearly three months, a span of 39 games.
"In the second period I thought we had a couple of chances to get the puck deep and we turned it over twice in the neutral zone," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, who was aiming for his 700th career NHL win in the city and arena where he spent 15 seasons as the Preds' coach. "We talked about it between the first and second, that the second period is their period, if you look at the stats. They are a quick transition team, so you've got to manage the puck. We didn't manage the puck twice, they scored on both of those, and they got two power-play goals."
Video: WSH@NSH: Wilson finishes Beagle's dish for early lead
The Caps scored first once again, doing so for the third straight game and for the 44th time in 61 games this season. And for the second time in as many nights, it was Washington's fourth line that got things started, doing so on its first shift of the contest.
Daniel Winnik carried the puck into Nashville ice along the left wing wall. He left a drop feed for Jay Beagle, who quickly spotted Tom Wilson driving the net. Beagle went tape-to-tape with Wilson, and the latter had an easy tap-in for his second goal in as many nights just 72 seconds after the opening puck drop.
Washington held its own through the remainder of the first, but the trouble started early in the second period. With the Caps defending in their end of the ice, Preds winger Filip Forsberg found a seam and threaded a cross-ice feed to Roman Josi on the weak side, and he was able to fire it past a sprawling Philipp Grubauer to square the score at 1-1 at 1:56 of the second.
Video: WSH Recap: Wilson, Kuznetsov score in 5-2 road loss
Some seven minutes later, Winnik committed an uncharacteristic turnover in the Washington zone at the end of a long shift. Two quick passes later, Forsberg fired it past Grubauer to give Nashville a 2-1 lead it would not relinquish at 8:54 of the middle period.
Alex Ovechkin was whistled for an offensive-zone holding call at 11:17 of the second, and 40 seconds later the Predators scored on the power play to push their cushion to 3-1. Ryan Ellis made a perfect slap pass to Mike Fisher at the back door, leaving the veteran center with an easy tap-in at 11:57.
Washington is easily the league's best first-period team this season, and the Predators are tops in the circuit in the second with a plus-31 goal differential in the middle frame (78-47).
"I have no idea, honestly," says Josi, speaking to the Preds' second period success this season. "It's been good to us. Even today we weren't happy with our start. With our first period, we thought we could have played a little better. It gives us a wake-up call in the first intermission, but the second period is definitely good to us this year."
Video: Caps' players discuss the 5-2 loss in Nashville
Ovechkin appeared to have pulled the Caps to within a goal with a lamplighter early in the third period, but the Preds begged to differ, and they issued a coach's challenge, alleging that Ovechkin was in ahead of the play. Sure enough, the review wiped the goal from the board and it remained a 3-1 game.
"That would have made a big difference for us," says Caps center Lars Eller. "I don't think we quit playing after that, but it was a call that went against us that would have made a considerable difference the rest of the game, because I thought we already had them a bit on their heels there. So we pushed, but we didn't get rewarded."
A phantom penalty on Dmitry Orlov resulted in another Nashville power play just after the midpoint of the third period, and three seconds later a Josi point blast made it a 4-1 game at 12:07.
Video: WSH@NSH: Kuznetsov snaps puck off iron and in
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his 15th goal of the season with three minutes remaining to pull the Caps to within two at 4-2, and Washington pulled Grubauer for an extra attacker shortly thereafter in an effort to try to get closer. But Viktor Arvidsson's empty-netter at 19:08 dashed those hopes and accounted for the 5-2 final score.
"At the end of the day," says Trotz, "[the Predators] didn't really have a lot of scoring chances. But when they did have a chance, they scored. I think we had them for probably seven or eight scoring chances all night, which is extremely low."
Playing their second game in less than 24 hours without four key regulars also took some toll on the Capitals.
Video: Trotz talks after a 5-2 loss against the Predators
"I don't think we had a lot of jump," Trotz admits. "I thought we had maybe five forwards and three defensemen going tonight. The rest were pretty average. But we had a little tough turnaround."