NASHVILLE — The Washington Capitals entered Saturday’s game at Bridgestone Arena without four regulars because of injury. As the game went on, Coach Barry Trotz felt his numbers were even more depleted.
“I thought we had maybe five forwards and three defensemen tonight going,” Trotz said. “The rest, we were very average.”
Health issues coupled with the fact that the Capitals were playing their second game in less than 24 hours led to an uncharacteristically sloppy 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators, Washington’s most lopsided defeat in more than a month. The result also left Trotz stuck on 699 career wins.
“We know we have way better, ” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “This was just a tough matchup for us tonight, taking everything into consideration. But we could’ve played a little bit better.”
The schedule didn’t do the Capitals any favors entering this weekend’s back-to-back. Playing two games in two nights is already a challenge, but following a 7 p.m. puck drop in Washington on Friday night, coming back to face the Predators in Nashville just 22 hours later marked the shortest turnaround the Capitals have had this season.
Washington was also without regulars Andre Burakovsky (on injured reserve with a hand injury) and T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik (undisclosed injuries). Oshie and Orpik didn’t travel to Nashville with the team, and it’s unclear whether they’ll join the Capitals in New York before Washington meets the Rangers on Tuesday.
Injuries notwithstanding, the team had a 1-0 lead in the first period after Tom Wilson’s third goal in six games. But then the Capitals started the second period without a shot for the first eight minutes. They were down 3-1 by the time the period was over.
Two Nashville goals came off turnovers, and the third was on a power play after Alex Ovechkin was called for holding in the offensive zone. Washington’s penalty-kill unit has been among the league’s best, but it allowed two power-play goals in the game.
“We can’t give teams chances on home ice, especially on back-to-backs,” goaltender Philipp Grubauer said. “We’ve got to play smart, and we were missing some key guys, some bodies there. It’s not an excuse, but everybody’s got to step up.”
Trotz then cut the ice time of some players in the third period. Daniel Winnik and Riley Barber had just three third-period shifts and Jay Beagle had four as Trotz shuffled the forward trios.
“Some guys, a little bit of a message that we needed you to be better,” Trotz said. “For some, the guys that were going, I was just trying to supplement them with other guys to see if we could change our fortunes a little bit.”
The Capitals nearly made it a one-goal game early in the third period when Ovechkin scored, but then the Predators challenged, believing the play was offside. Video review showed Ovechkin’s skate over the blue line before the puck entered the zone. Ovechkin finished the game without a shot on goal, the third time that’s happened in the past seven games. Before that, Ovechkin had a streak of 315 games with at least one shot in each.
After Ovechkin’s goal was overturned, Roman Josi scored his second goal of the game to make it a three-goal deficit. Filip Forsberg, a former Capitals prospect whom the organization traded away in 2013, finished the game with a goal and two assists.
For first-place Washington, returning to the locker room after a loss has been rare this season. In this case, it wasn’t entirely unexpected, considering the travel difficulties and recent injuries.
“We kind of take it the same way we do every loss,” Alzner said. “It doesn’t really matter how it happens; a loss is a loss. That’s kind of been one of the strengths of this team, is to be able to bounce back pretty good and not really worry about those kind of things.”