The Caps traveled up to Ottawa tonight with hopes of extending their lead on Winnipeg. Instead, their lead shrank to two points, thanks to ‘Peg taking out a now hapless Carolina squad in overtime, and Washington losing 3-1 to a collective brick wall in Ottawa. This game could have used some WD-40, but that’s just how the Senators like it. They are a sandpaper team that isn’t beaten by sauce very often. Despite crucial injuries, they still lock teams down and wear them out. That script continued tonight. The Caps were up to the task for the most part, but they couldn’t take advantage of enough scoring chances, which were few and far between.
Braden Holtby might not sleep that well tonight, or maybe he will? I don’t know the man on that kind of personal level. This game isn’t on him. He had an outstanding first period, one in which his counterpart Craig Anderson could’ve spent on the bench. Washington couldn’t establish any offensive zone time and mustered only four shots on goal in the period. Holtby assumed the role of bacon-saver.
That was until he just plain missed an undeflected Kyle Turris snap-shot from outside the circles. Bad goal, but I can’t complain about that one as a fan. It happens, and Holtby deserved some slack because of his stellar first period play. He went back to wowing with a stone-cold robbery on a wrap around attempt, and somewhere in there the Caps tied the game with what looked like Jack Hillen, Martin Erat, and Mike Ribeiro playing badminton with the puck. That seems like the only way to beat Anderson this season, so good on those guys.
Then, Holtby casually misplayed the puck behind the net, overshot a waiting Karl Alzner, and watched like a home-plate umpire as Cory Conacher slapped it home. That one hurt. A wave of nausea came over me on the couch as I thought about that as the likely game winner. It was just how the game was going. Ottawa gave no room to the Washington forwards, and the Caps finally got beat (Turris netted his second goal of the night with an ENG.) The Captain had a tough night, couldn’t find a rhythm, and finished a -3 with 4 SOG. Was this a case of the law of averages lowering the boom on the Caps, or is Ottawa a team the Caps hope to avoid in round one (if they hang on)? The Senators now lead the season series 2-0, having won a 3-2 contest at home back in January. Ottawa finally pays a visit to our nation’s capitol a week from tonight. Here’s to hoping for a change in narrative.
Oh well, the winning streak was going to end sometime, and streaks are never as important as how a team bounces back from losing one. The Caps, taking cues from their bench boss, are oozing confidence of late, and I don’t imagine this game affecting their play in the long run. They got tripped up tonight, but plenty of the guys are playing well. Erat has looked especially fine in the last two games. His speed and hockey IQ are starting to shine as he eases into his role on the second line. Trade analysis aside, he looks like a great fit with Troy Brouwer and Ribeiro, and now that line is threatening again. Erat also looked great tonight on the penalty kill unit, meshing particularly well with Jay Beagle to disrupt any zone time for Ottawa. Marcus Johansson also continued to skate confidently, using his speed to earn what should have been a key power play early in the third, but Washington’s league-leading power play unit couldn’t shed the goose egg tonight.
The only potential for real bad news as a result of this game, other than giving ground to Winnipeg, is the small possibility that Nicklas Backstrom is hurt more than expected. He took a Mike Green slap-shot to the arm in the middle of third period and didn’t return. He most likely has an awesome bruise that should be every color of the spectrum before healing, but he shouldn’t miss any significant time.
Time to move on, though, because the squad is off to Montreal for the second time in eleven days. The Caps have wielded a playoff mentality for the last month, so they should come out firing on Saturday night.