NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Defensive-zone coverage was one of the Capitals' paramount changes last season as they turned into one of the more reliable teams in their own end of the rink.
Wednesday night was a clinic in what not to do in the defensive zone as the Caps lost to the Nashville Predators 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena. It's the preseason, still, so the result isn't as important as the process, but the process itself was lacking.
"They're getting their goals from right in front of the net. It's losing your man and not having your head on a swivel and leaving the zone too early," a clearly upset Bruce Boudreau said. "It was a combination. It wasn't the kids that were out there when all these goals were scored, either."
Players were just as down about the defensive miscues, which were very visible on all three of the Predators' even-strength goals. Communication and other problems were cited as reasons.
"We should be able to. It should be a no-brainer," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "If you don't have a guy, you have to look around and find that guy. There's always going to be somebody around — if he's in front of the net or he's in the high slot. We should have known where our responsibilities were tonight."
Alzner and John Carlson were on the ice for the Predators' first goal, when David Legwand beat Carlson to a loose puck and found Colin Wilson open right in front of the net.
Midway through the second period it was the defensive duo of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz on when Matt Halischuk was left wide open in the slot. Tomas Vokoun, playing back in the arena where he developed into a starting goaltender, had no chance.
"The mistakes that we made, they capitalized on [them]. We took pride last year in protecting things in the defensive zone and that obviously still needs to be some work," Green said. "You've got to give them some credit: They came out hard, and they made it very difficult for us."
Later that period, Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber skated in from the blue line to blast one past Neuvirth. Green and Schultz were in front, but the forward line of Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward was, too, and a forward was likely responsibly for Weber.
Green said that he and Schultz were switched up on their wrong sides. But Boudreau didn't buy Schultz's assertion that he and Green need more time to adapt to one another again.
"I think that's more of an excuse, an escape, than reality. I don't think that, quite frankly, those goals had really a lot to do with getting used to each other," Boudreau said. "It's just not going to the right position and not moving your feet at the right times and not pressuring when you're supposed to be pressuring."
The power play, which went 0-for-5, was another area of concern. As were periods of offensive malaise in which the Caps couldn't generate much of anything around the net.
"Maybe guys that are used to scoring that haven't scored in preseason are looking for the perfect play," Boudreau said. "But that's not the way you get goals: You get goals by going to the net and shooting pucks and eventually one goes in off your head or off your knee or something or you score a goal."
The Caps managed one goal, as Mathieu Perreault finished off a two-on-one with Brooks Laich after a Predators defender fell down.
But there wasn't much to be happy about for the Caps, who are now 1-3-1 in the preseason. They have just two exhibition games left, though, before it starts counting for real.
"It's nothing to be too worried about, but it is something that we definitely need to work on," Green said. "It's not a big problem — it's just the little things that we need to focus on and do better. And yeah, maybe we're running out of time here, but we have still another week and a half to prepare, so we'll be ready."
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