The Capitals (34-12-5) came into Wednesday’s game on a four-game winning streak and held a 4-3 lead as the third period started, but an ill-timed turnover from goaltender Braden Holtby led to a shorthanded equalizer from Ryan Johansen three minutes into the final frame. A long-distance goal through traffic by Yannick Weber proved decisive with 4:37 remaining.
“It’s more me tonight instead of [the Predators], so it’s one of those that’s hard to swallow,” Holtby said. “You’ve got to move on.”
Holtby’s miscue, coming as he tried to spring an outlet pass, landed near center ice on the stick of Johansen, who glided into the zone and beat Holtby high to the blocker side. It was the fourth shorthanded goal the Capitals have allowed in their past seven games. Holtby said he didn’t see Johansen, called it “bad awareness” and said he was “trying to do too much.”
“Obviously, that shorthanded goal hurt us there,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “I thought Braden, other than that, he was fine. He wasn’t tested with a ton of shot volume, [but] I thought he was tested with some good chances against. But I’m certain he’d be more than willing to say that he’d like to make a different play on that one.”
Before the third-period letdown, the Capitals had overcome a 3-1 deficit with goals from Alex Ovechkin, Richard Panik and Tom Wilson.
Ovechkin started the initial rally with his 35th goal of the season and his ninth in his past four games. Few have come easier. Nashville goalie Juuse Saros turned the puck over to the Capitals’ captain in the crease, allowing Ovechkin to place it in a yawning net late in the first period, trimming Nashville’s lead to 3-2 at 16:26.
The goal moved Ovechkin past Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with 693. Next up for the captain is Mark Messier (694).
“A big honor to be on that list,” Ovechkin said of passing Yzerman. “Kind of happy but still a long way to go.”
The Capitals’ second-period equalizer was credited to Panik, who appeared to slightly deflect a pass from behind the Nashville net off the stick of Nick Bonino. The puck clipped Saros and went over the goal line. The goal was Panik’s second of the night and seventh of the season. His first came on a clean wrister from the top of the right circle at 9:28 of the first period.
Panik and the third line were trending in the right direction in the past few games before the bye week, and they combined for two of the Capitals’ four goals Wednesday night.
“Yeah, I think January has been pretty good for us,” Panik said of his line. “We’ve been playing really good hockey. If we’re going to continue this way, it’s going to just be better and better.”
After Panik’s second goal, Wilson extended the Capitals’ momentum, breaking the tie with a power-play goal off a tip in front with 8:54 left in the second period. Wilson’s 16th goal came minutes after he briefly went to the locker room for repairs from a high stick that gifted the Capitals the power play. When he returned, he hopped on the ice and scored off a dish from Lars Eller.
It was Wilson’s second power-play goal in as many games and extended his points streak to five games (three goals, three assists). The Capitals’ power play was 1 for 5 in the loss.
“I’d say that my level of concern with a few areas that have cost us in the past, just because we came up on the [all-star] break doesn’t mean that those problems all went away,” Reirden said of the power-play struggles. “When you don’t skate for seven days, they don’t all of a sudden get better.”
Holtby, who was strong in his previous start Monday against Montreal, struggled early against the Predators, allowing three goals on the first seven shots. He finished with 19 saves. Ilya Samsonov is set to be in net Friday against Ottawa.
“I still feel the same,” Holtby said of his mental state after Wednesday’s game. “It’s just a stupid mental error. That’s what it is, and you make sure it doesn’t happen again, and you push forward.”