January 25, 2022

Washington Capitals Game 44 Recap: Niskanen turnover spoils Trotz’ return to Nashville

James Neal converted a bad turnover by former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Matt Niskanen with 100 seconds left in the game for his second goal of the night, and the Nashville Predators skated away with a 4-3 decision over the Washington Capitals in Caps’ coach Barry Trotz’ return to Music City.

Trotz was coach of Nashville for the first 15 years of the team’s existence. The Predators showed a moving tribute to the only coach the franchise had until this past offseason during the first TV timeout and their fans responded with a long standing ovation — extending into the start of play after the next faceoff.

It’s the first loss in regulation for the Caps since Dec. 23.

On the ice, the game looked like a possible playoff preview.

Nashville took a 2-0 lead on goals by Seth Jones and Neal, but Alex Ovechkin tied the game with a pair of goals less than two minutes apart in the second period against Carter Hutton, starting for injured All-World goalie Pekke Rinne, who’s out 4-to-6 weeks with a lower body injury.

The Caps (24-12-8) went up 3-2 early in the third period on Marcus Johansson’s 13th goal of the season. The Predators responded with a power play goal from Mattias Ekholm with 4:29 left, as John Carlson sat in the box on a questionable tripping call in a very physical game.

Braden Holtby made 26 saves. The Caps announced before the game that Holtby will break his consecutive start streak of 21 games Saturday night against Dallas, just one short of the team record.

Notes and observations:
  • The turnover by Niskanen leading to the game-winner was brutal. BRU-TAL. He was face-up to Neal, who was pressuring him on the forecheck near the right wing faceoff circle and essentially handed him the puck, allowing Neal to take one stride and whip it past the defenseless Holtby. You expect better decision-making from your top blueliner, and Niskanen assumed all responsibility for it afterwards. That’s nice, but it’s a play that cost his team a point and feeling bad after playing a good game against a very tough team.
  • Both of Ovechkin’s goals were from the “Ovi Spot” in the left wing circle. The first came at full-strength on a feed from Karl Alzner, the second on a power play from Mike Green. Ovechkin now has 24 goals on the season.
  • The first period was pretty ragged on both sides, but once the Caps woke up in the second period they fairly dominated possession. All well and good, as it signals they still played a strong game on the road. But it also illustrates the glaring mistakes at the end of the game which cost them a point.
  • It might not have come down to those mistakes had it not been for Braden Holtby playing out of his mind on a couple of occasions. He’s completely locked in and really showing why the Caps organization had so much faith in him for so long.
  • How about Marcus Johansson?
  • Eric Fehr was a late scratch due to a lower body injury. He took warmups but wasn’t able to go. Michael Latta took his place at third line center.
About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP


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