KANATA, Ontario – It would be easy to pin the Capitals’ 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators Thursday night on goaltender Braden Holtby.
It would also be unfair.
Holtby allowed one goal to slip under his right arm and set up another with an errant pass from behind his net as the Capitals saw their eight-game win streak come to an end at Scotiabank Place.
But if you listen to Capitals coach Adam Oates and the rest of the Capitals, Holtby was not the reason for the defeat.
“We had a couple flurries at times but our execution was probably the worst we’ve had in a long time,” Oates said.
“They played a good game, but I don’t think we played our game. We were sloppy in our execution and that gave them more opportunities to have the puck than they should have.”
As a result, the Caps’ four-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets in the race for the Southeast Division title is down to two. The Jets blew a pair of two-goal leads but came back to beat the Hurricanes in overtime for their fifth straight win.
The Caps [24-18-2, 50 points] and Jets [23-19-2, 48 points] each have 21 regulation or shootout wins and four games remaining, including Tuesday night’s showdown in D.C.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Holtby said. “We’ve been playing well lately and we’re going to continue to play that way in the last part of the season.
“As long as we prepare the way we can and play the way we can, we’ll let the cards fall where they may. I believe we’ll be in the playoffs if we do those things.”
Jason Chimera said the Caps lacked emotion at the start of Thursday night’s game and it showed on the scoreboard, where they were outshot 24-7 and outscored 1-0 halfway through the game. Winnipeg’s first goal came early in the second period on a Kyle Turris wrist shot that deflected off Karl Alzner’s stick and found its way under Holtby’s right arm.
“Two sticks made contact and the trajectory changes,” Holtby said. “It’s tough to read because you don’t realize it’s deflected until it’s too late.”
Mike Ribeiro tied the score 11:14 into the second period, tapping in a pass from Marty Erat for his 13th goal of the season, but the Sens regained the lead a little over 2 minutes later.
Holtby went behind his net to stop the puck, but his pass intended for Alzner went right to Cory Conacher, who quickly fired the puck into the open net.
“I got a little rushed with pressure on me and I tried to make a blind pass and didn’t execute it,” Holtby said. “It’s one of those you want back but you can’t dwell on it. It happens.”
Oates said that play by Holtby was indicative of the way the Capitals played all night. Defenseman Steve Oleksy agreed.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time he makes that pass tape-to-tape,” Oleksy said. “I don’t really feel that was the difference maker in the game, either. We had plenty of opportunities.”
For Alex Ovechkin it was just the third time in 19 games he was held without a point. Ovechkin finished with four shots and three hits but was also a minus-3, along with Mike Green.
He said the Caps will need to play with more emotion Saturday night in Montreal.
“I don’t think we had that emotion right away,” he said. “They got two power plays and they were more involved in the game than us. Our line didn’t feel like we were in the game because we were killing penalties.”