Were the Washington Capitals caught looking?
Looking ahead to Wednesday, that is.
Washington will host the Boston Bruins Wednesday in one of the biggest games of the season so far, a game that pits the top two teams in the NHL. First, the Capitals had to entertain a division rival sitting in seventh place, and by night’s end, it appeared to be a typical trap game.
The Columbus Blue Jackets took an early lead and skated away with a 5-2 win over the Capitals Monday, snapping Washington’s six-game winning streak.
Alex Ovechkin scored his team-leading 21st goal of the season and Nicklas Backstrom put up a goal and an assist. Backstrom played in his first game since Nov. 18 after missing eight with an upper-body injury. Braden Holtby saved 33 shots for Washington (22-5-5, 49 points).
It was the Capitals’ first regulation loss in almost three weeks.
Coach Todd Reirden called the Capitals’ first period “one of the two worst periods of the year.” Columbus got on the board 3:27 into the game when Gustav Nyquist took a shot from the left circle, and Cam Atkinson staked out a good position in front of the net and redirected the puck up over Holtby’s glove.
The Blue Jackets had a remarkable 20-6 advantage in shots on goal after the first period.
“You’ve got to be on top of your game or you’re susceptible to ending up on the wrong end of things,” Reirden said. “We’ve been really consistent obviously through 30-plus games of doing that. Tonight, we weren’t. Had a bad start to the game. It cost us. It’s something we discussed, and got better as the game went on, but it was not acceptable at the start of the game.”
The Capitals mostly closed that gap with a better second period, but they still failed to convert anything, despite two power-play opportunities that frame. Despite better play, one Washington mistake led to another goal allowed.
Nick Jensen was pinned in one corner of the Capitals’ defensive zone and lost possession of the puck. Blue Jackets winger Eric Robinson scooped it up and slid a pass to the slot, where Ryan Murray scored with a one-timer.
Ovechkin scored 40 seconds into the third. Dmitry Orlov took a shot coming off a faceoff, the puck bounced among a few players’ skates and sticks and Ovechkin reached in for the loose puck. But Riley Nash and Oliver Bjorkstrand added Columbus goals midway through the frame, putting the contest to bed.
Losing 4-1, Backstrom scored with Holtby pulled for a sixth skater, coming off a rebound of an Ovechkin shot. But the Blue Jackets responded immediately with an empty-netter.
“They were all over us (in) the first period,” Backstrom said. “But at the same time, Holts kept us in the game, I think, and we’re down 2-1 there in the third, so we had the chance to come back. Sometimes that’s going to happen.”
Backstrom felt good being back on the ice.
“Maybe the first period was a little off for me, haven’t played in a while, but the second and third felt a lot better,” Backstrom said. “When you lose a game, you just have to forget about it and move on.”
The Blue Jackets (12-14-4, 28 points) are no longer one of the better teams in the Metropolitan Division after the three best players on last year’s roster — forwards Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky — departed in free agency.
But the Jackets continued to have Washington’s number. They’ve beaten the Capitals in five of the last six regular-season meetings dating back to 2017-18. They’re scheduled to meet twice more this month, Dec. 16 in Columbus and Dec. 27 in Washington.
Monday’s loss won’t take anything away from the Capitals-Bruins tilt — after all, the Bruins took a surprise loss Monday, too, falling to the Ottawa Senators. The game leads this week’s “Wednesday Night Hockey” on NBC Sports Network at 7 p.m.