Of the Washington Capitals’ six losses this season, five saw the team enter the third period tied against its opponent.
Tuesday night in Nashville was the latest example. After playing solid against the Predators through two periods — even longer, considering that Washington took the initial lead in the game — lapses in the third are what caused the Capitals’ defeat. It makes for extra sting with losses, because the Capitals know that they were in a position to win the game late in so many contests.
“It’s frustrating. Guys are as upset as I’ve seen. We really battled to get that lead and then [Nashville] tied it right away,” Mike Knuble said after the 3-1 loss to the Predators. “Minimum we should do is force it to overtime. I don’t think we did it recklessly, it just kind of happened.”
Said Joel Ward: “I don’t think about the past [losses] too much but [Tuesday night] was definitely a disappointment. To be up in this building, a tough place to play, it’s definitely a let down just us as players that let things slide a bit and it kind of cost us toward the end.”
The only game the Capitals lost but didn’t enter the third period tied was the first defeat of the season, the 2-1 loss in Edmonton on Oct. 27. Here’s a look back at each of those other losses, in chronological order, that did dissolve in the final period of regulation.
(Yes, this includes the 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils because although Washington gained a point, it is still a loss.)
— Oct. 29, Vancouver wins, 7-4: The Capitals didn’t get off to a good start but managed to pull even at 4 by the time the second intermission rolled around.
Less than five minutes into the third, an unnecessary interference penalty by Alex Ovechkin would give the Canucks’ potent offense time to work. Washington killed the penalty but seconds after it expired, the Canucks took the lead back. That single goal marked the beginning of a five-minute slide for the Capitals, who gave up three goals before the mid-way point of the period.
— Nov. 5, Islanders win, 5-3: The Capitals admitted they stopped playing after taking a two-goal lead this night, and after entering the third tied at 2 with New York, that proved to be their undoing. Tomas Vokoun blamed himself for the loss and did give up a soft goal that stood as the game winner to P.A. Parenteau, but the Washington defense was also suspect. Goals by Matt Martin and Parenteau in the third period were created by the Islanders’ ability to skate unobstructed to the front of the net, as if invisible to the Capitals defense.
— Nov. 8, Dallas wins, 5-2: Defensive breakdowns were the name of the game in the final frame against the Stars. Twenty-four seconds into the third after a faceoff win by the Capitals, Dallas players outworked their opponents along the boards to take a quick lead. The Stars scored three goals in the opening 8 minutes and 5 seconds of the third as Washington was continually outhustled to pucks and pushed around in a concerning loss that prompted Coach Bruce Boudreau to put the team through a rigorous practice of bag skates and battle drills the next day.
— Nov. 12, New Jersey wins, 3-2, in a shootout: To be certain, Washington was a beleaguered group when it entered this contest with two defensive regulars scratched and Brooks Laich filling in on the blueline. It didn’t get any luckier when Roman Hamrlik was unable to finish the game out with an undisclosed upper-body injury, stretching the defense thinner. One wonders, though, if the Capitals had found a way to break through New Jersey’s trap and muster a little more offense – they went through a span of nearly 21 minutes without a shot on goal – if they could have found a way to capture a win rather than only one point.
— Nov. 15, Nashville wins, 3-1: As many said Tuesday night here in Music City, this one was tough to take. The Capitals played on an even keel with one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league and entered the third still in a scoreless tie, thanks in part to stellar efforts by both Vokoun and Predators netminder Pekka Rinne.
Washington even took the lead with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, but two bad plays – one where the Capitals stopped skating thinking the play was offsides and another where Nashville forwards out-worked the visitors for offensive opportunity and made the defense look foolish — allowed the Predators to make sure it was a short-lived advantage.
“It was hard to take because we worked so hard,” Boudreau said after the loss to the Predators. “You get 40 shots in this building against a great defensive team and 32 of them are in the last two periods, it’s really tough. We’ll have to regroup tomorrow and get ready for Winnipeg.”