Caps Host Preds in Matinee Affair

By
Posted March 28, 2015

Tom Wilson before the Caps-Devils game. (Caps Outsider)

The Nashville Predators are in town and they’re looking to sweep the regular season series against the Washington Capitals. This will mark the first time that the Predators will face off against the Caps in DC since Barry Trotz was relieved of his duties as head coach in Nashville last summer. The Preds are coming off a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night and are fighting for first place in the Western Conference. The Caps enter into the contest one point behind the Pens and three points behind the Islanders. Washington defeated the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night in overtime 3-2 and recorded one of their worst wins of the season. This win featured the Caps giving up a short-handed goal and a late 3rd period New Jersey goal with the goalie pulled.

After a four day break between games, the Caps dominated the first 10 minutes of the period and were rewarded with a Karl Alzner wrister that beat goalie Cory Schneider blocker side. It was Alzner’s 5th goal of the season, a career high. But the Devils bounced back and matched Washington’s play for the rest of the first period. In the second, the Caps climbed to a 2-0 lead when Eric Fehr wristed a shot from the point that was able to beat a well screened Schneider for Fehr’s 19th goal of the season. Much like the first period, the Devils took over the period from there and were rewarded in second half of the period when Travis Zajac scored shorthanded on a juicy rebound after Alexander Ovechkin failed to stick lift on the back check. The Caps were unable to score on the minute and thirty seconds of PP time and there was a clear momentum swing. The third period was perhaps the most disappointing period of the game. The Caps were unable to record a shot on goal until 10 minutes into the period and it was just an dump into the offensive zone. The Devils controlled the whole third period and were rewarded with 37 seconds left in the period when Matt Niskanen left the crease wide open with Steve Bernier to receive a pass from behind the net to bury the puck to tie the game at two.  The Verizon Center faithful were silent. Shocked that the Caps had blown a two goal lead and would now have to try to win the game in OT. Up until Thursday night, the Caps had not beaten the Devils in OT in 15 years. Ironically, the last Caps player to score in OT against the Devils was Adam Oates. Thankfully, 1:13 into OT Evgeny Kuznetsov battled for the puck and sent a pass to Niskanen who took a point shot that deflected off Kuznetsov stick and into the net. The Caps had broken a 15 year streak.

Trotz was not happy with his team’s performance. He called the first two goals “lucky”, decision making and execution “poor”, and resiliency/determination “average at best”. Trotz guaranteed that an effort like the one against the Devils would not work against the Predators or Rangers this weekend. But points are points and the Caps really needed them.

Washington will face their toughest test of the season when they play against the Predators Saturday and the league leading Rangers on Sunday. Although Coach Trotz was disappointed with their efforts on Thursday, he believes that his team can bounce back and play “Capitals hockey” against some of the best teams in the league. Friday, Trotz held a team practice and played around with the line combinations. The most popular arrangement could potentially be the line combinations that Trotz will ice on Saturday. Here is the expected line combinations and defensive pairings:

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Wilson

Laich – Fehr – Ward

Johansson – Kuznetsov – Brouwer

Glencross – Latta – Chimera

Orpik – Carlson

Alzner – Niskanen

Gleason – Green

Holtby

The Caps are still missing the services of Jay Beagle who has been ruled out for the next three games but will make the road trip to Montreal, Ottawa, and Detroit. Dmitry Orlov will play in his first professional game of the season this weekend with the Hershey Bears after dealing with a wrist injury that kept him from playing for most of the season. Orlov could potentially be the 7th defenseman that the Caps use in the playoffs, assuming they make it.

The Caps need to continue to collect points and this will be one of the most important weekends of the season. Washington needs to play their brand of hockey and treat the remaining schedule like the playoffs have already started. The Preds will put up a huge fight, especially with Vezina candidate Pekka Rinne in net and an impressive defensive core. Hopefully the Caps will survive the weekend and enter next week on a three game win streak.