As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” The Capitals perfect run through the month of April would not escape that old adage Thursday night in Ottawa. The Senators have been remarkably effective at home this season (15-3-3), and they would earn two more points with a 3-1 victory.
Having not seen the Sens since late January, the Caps took some time to get adjusted to the smothering way in which Head Coach Paul MacLean’s team performs. The Caps would only muster four shots in the first period, and not many of those were great scoring looks against Craig Anderson in goal for the home team.
Braden Holtby was much busier at the opposite end in the opening period. He made 11 stops, several of which were sparklers, including a pair on 20-year old Mika Zibanejad.
The Senators would start the low-scoring night early in the second period. Kyle Turris carried the puck wide into the offensive zone, going one-on-one against Karl Alzner. Just as Alzner was reaching out to get his stick in the way of the shot, Turris snapped a drive that appeared to go between the right arm and body of Holtby. The Caps netminder gave a quick shrug of dejection, which was his tell that he believed he should have stopped that one.
It took 10 minutes for the Caps to respond. Jack Hillen sent the puck from his point position toward Martin Erat, who did an amazing job of swatting it out of mid-air and in the direction of Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro got just enough of his stick on it to place it past Anderson, tying the score at 1-1 at the 11:14 mark of the second.
The Senators took the lead for good only two minutes later. Holtby left his net to play the puck as he has done dozens of times this year without fail. This time however, his outlet pass to Alzner was off-target. Instead, the disc landed directly on the blade of Ottawa winger Cory Conacher, who wasted no time sliding a sharp-angle shot into the net that was unguarded.
The Senators outshot the Caps badly in the second frame, 16-8, and were it not for fine work by Holtby the deficit could have been much greater.
The vaunted Caps power-play unit had two third-period opportunities to tie the game, but came up dry.
The best chance the Caps had to knot the score was on a clean breakaway from Eric Fehr. Eric was looking for room between the pads of Anderson, who didn’t give him any, and turned the shot away for his biggest save of the night.
It would be Turris who closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal at 18:33, after Head Coach Adam Oates had lifted Holtby for an extra attacker.
Holtby was credited with 35 saves and was voted the #1 star, albeit in a losing effort. Anderson finished the night with 18 stops and lowered his already microscopic goals-against average in the process.
The race in the Southeast Division and in the Eastern Conference continues to get tighter. Winnipeg was a winner in overtime Thursday over Carolina, which pulled them within two points of the Caps atop the Southeast. The New York Islanders and Rangers also were victorious, keeping their hopes alive in what is likely to be a wild chase for the last two spots in the East.
The Caps, with their eight-game win streak now a thing of the past, will focus on the Montreal Canadiens. Those two teams square off at Bell Centre on Saturday night at 7 p.m. Check it out on Comcast SportsNet.