The Washington Capitals inched closer to a playoff spot in their last game, but that didn’t stop Barry Trotz from condemning his team’s performance.
Many more like them could hinder Washington’s road to the postseason with a difficult final stretch ahead, beginning Saturday when it hosts the Central Division-leading Nashville Predators.
The Capitals (40-24-10) own the Eastern Conference’s top wild-card spot with a five-point lead over Ottawa and Boston. As both of its closest pursuers were losing Thursday, Washington won for the fourth time in five games with a 3-2 overtime victory over New Jersey.
Trotz’s club, though, blew a 2-0 second-period lead at home against a Devils team which is all but out of the playoff chase. The Capitals, outshot 31-24, surrendered the tying goal with 30 seconds left before Evgeny Kuznetsov bailed them out in the extra period.
"I didn’t think we had a real hard work ethic, weren’t diligent on our responsibilities, and that was probably one of our sloppier games," Trotz said.
All but one of the Capitals’ final eight games are against playoff contenders, with the first of two contests against the East-leading New York Rangers on Sunday.
"As I said to the guys," Trotz said. "If we play that way in the next two games, it won’t be pretty for us."
Trotz can at least be encouraged by unheralded players rising to the occasion. Karl Alzner ended a 23-game goal drought against the Devils, and Kuznetsov has four goals in the last six games after scoring six in his previous 66 contests.
Nashville (46-21-8) is one point ahead of St. Louis in the Central, though the Blues have a game in hand. The Predators are also one back of the Rangers and Anaheim for the league’s most points (101).
They had lost nine of 11 before winning three straight.
"Three in a row is great, especially after that streak a few weeks ago," left wing Taylor Beck told the team’s official website. "To put three wins in a row together is huge and hopefully we can keep building on that. We’re playing good hockey for the most part, but we’ve just got to touch a few things up."
Nashville totaled 74 shots in victories over Buffalo and Montreal, scoring a power-play goal in each, then won 3-2 at Tampa Bay on Thursday despite a season-low 19 shots and no goals on five power plays.
"We know we can be better, but it was a good road win. It’s not easy coming down here into this building and walking away with a win," coach Peter Laviolette said. "At the end of the night, that’s a W in the column. Our guys did enough to get it done."
The Predators haven’t allowed a power-play goal in four games after surrendering seven on 19 opportunities in their previous seven contests. Washington leads the NHL with a 24.8 power-play percentage but hasn’t scored on the advantage in three straight, its longest drought since a four-game span Nov. 14-20.
Nashville won the first meeting 4-3 on Jan. 16 with James Neal scoring twice, though he could miss a seventh straight game Saturday due to an upper-body injury.
Alex Ovechkin had two goals in the first matchup, giving him eight along with four assists in 10 career meetings.
The Predators are 2-5-2 all-time at Washington, losing all four visits since Dec. 7, 2005. However, possible Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne has never played there and won his only matchup with the Capitals in 2011.