August 28, 2014

GAME 16 RE-CAP: Rinne, Defensive Breakdowns Doom Caps Against Nashville

Tomas Vokoun got little help from his teammates in the third period of Tuesday night's 3-1 loss to Nashville. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Despite an outstanding goaltending performance by Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals appeared to have secured themselves a place on the winning track when Troy Brouwer scored the game’s first goal with 4:46 remaining. But Nashville equalized just 28 seconds later through Martin Erat, and won the game with 24.3 seconds left when Erat used his quick hands to make a fool of Dennis Wideman before finding a streaking Colin Wilson to slam the puck into a wide-open net. Shea Weber added an empty-net goal five seconds later to complete a 3-1 Nashville victory in a game where the quality of play was not reflected by the very ordinary final score.

After a sluggish opening few minutes (the Caps found themselves being outshot 10-3 with just under eight minutes remaining in the first period), Washington made their way back into the game. They closed the period with five straight shots on goal, the last coming from Brooks Laich, whom Rinne denied with a pad save from point-blank range in the closing seconds of the period. Washington then outshot Nashville 15-8 in the second period and were only denied having the lead after 40 minutes due to the undeniable brilliance of Rinne, who finished the game with 39 saves, and the inside of the goalpost, which was all that kept out Roman Hamrlik’s attempt with just under five minutes to go in the second. So intense and disorienting was Washington’s pressure in the middle frame that at one point, Rinne was turned completely around and was facing into his own net as he and his defenders fought to clear his crease.

Rinne’s solid play continued in the third period as he denied several chances from in close. It was always going to take something special to beat the Finn and Brouwer finally provided it, skating onto a cross-ice pass from Marcus Johansson (who put in a solid shift with 17:35 ice time, the most of any Washington forward, and who had been cruelly denied a backhanded goal on an end-to-end rush moments earlier by Rinne) and wristing a shot over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Given the time  remaining and the solid performance to Tomas Vokoun at the other end of the ice, one goal should have been enough. But instead, the Capitals first line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Brouwer and the defensive pairing of Jeff Schultz and  John Carlson suffered a catastrophic breakdown on the very next shift. Apparently believing the Predators to be offside, the Capitals stopped skating momentarily  and allowed Weber to cruise down the right-wing side and send a cross to Erat for a simple game-tying tap-in.

Conversely, the game-winning goal could be chalked up to a moment of pure effort and anticipation from Wilson and shear genius from Erat. After Wilson chased down a loose puck in the far corner and shrugged off a check  from Erskine, the forward found Erat at the side of the net. Faced with Wideman and Vokoun, the Czech faked a quick pass to his right before dragging his stick to his left and slipping a pass to the stick of a charging Erat, who bundled the puck into the net.

That, for all intents and purposes, was that, though Weber eliminated all doubts with a slap shot from the neutral zone. The Capitals, who continue their road trip against Winnipeg on Thursday night, were left to rue the third-period breakdowns as well as the absence of Mike Green, the particularly poor performance of the Carlson/Schultz defensive combination, and the ongoing offensive struggles of  Ovechkin, which prompted some intense Twitter reflections from one member of the Russian media.

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