Pregame #16: Washington Capitals at Nashville Predators

Washington Capitals (10-4-1) at Nashville Predators (8-5-3)
Bridgestone Arena
Time:  8:00 PM Eastern, 7:00 PM Central
TV: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Games Remaining:
Dec 20, 2011 NSH@WAS, 7:00 PM
Former Predators:  RW Joel Ward (230 GP, 2008-11), G Tomas Vokoun (383 GP, 1998-2007)
Our Bloguin Partner: Fang Faction

Don’t expect a shootout tonight!  Read on!

The Washington Capitals head to Music City for a mid-week showdown with the Preds.  In an odd twist, the Capitals start off this 3-game road-trip with a game against a likely new denizen of the Southeast Division followed by a game on Thursday against the team on the way out, the Winnipeg Jets.  The Capitals are coming off a weekend in which they garnered 3 of 4 points against the defensive-minded New Jersey Devils.  After winning in Newark on Friday night, the Caps once again could not muster much offense after the first period in the second game on back-to-back nights, losing in the 4th round of the shootout at Verizon.  Even after not scoring a powerplay goal in either game, the Caps still rank 7th with the extra man (21%) and will look to get that going tonight, once again without the injured Mike Green.

The Nashville Predators have lost 2 of their last three games, but they have been playing steady hockey overall of late.  Their penalty kill is near the top of the league (5th, 88.4%) and their strong defense and goaltending make them a formidable opponent in any game.  The Capitals will need to jump on Nashville early, as the Predators have one of the worst winning percentages in the league after allowing the first goal (.167, 26th).  They are a team designed to play solid defense, wait for the chance to strike, and to play with the lead. If the Caps can get the Predators out of their comfort zone, they should have good success in transition and in the offensive zone when the Predators are forced to take chances on offense. 

Injury Report:   Capitals’ D Mike Green (groin) and RW Jay Beagle (head) are out.  D John Erskine (shoulder) and D Roman Hamrlik (upper body) are probable.
-For the Predators, C David Legwand (upper body) is out and D Teemu Laakso (cyst surgery) is day-to-day

Three Things To Watch For:

Game Warden:  Tonight marks the first time Joel Ward faces his old mates in the regular season, and it will be his first ever regular season game against the franchise.  A Predator for the past 3 seasons after they signed him away from Minnesota, Ward played excellent hard-nosed hockey and scored some big playoff goals during his tenure in Nashville.  Though he is scoreless in the last 3 games, Ward has 4 goals and 7 points in 15 games this season and is 3rd on the team with a +7 defensive rating.  He also ranks among the team leaders among forwards in blocked shots (10) and shorthanded ice time (1:31 per game).  Look for Ward to be energized tonight.

Surging Sergei:  The Predators don’t boast the offense of some of their Western Conference rivals, but they do have a few forwards who could make life interesting in the Caps’ zone, including former Canadien Sergei Kostitsyn.  Kostitsyn was buried on Montreal’s depth chart for years before breaking out in Nashville last season with 23 goals and 50 points for the goal-starved Preds.  The shifty Belarussian has a history of success against the Caps, he was #1 star of the game and posted 3 assists against the Caps on February 10, 2010, including setting up the overtime goal that ended the Caps’ 14-game winning streak.  Overall, he has 4 goals and 9 points in 11 career games against the Caps.  Kostitsyn has gotten off to a solid start this season, with 3 goals and 8 points in 12 games and is back to full strength after missing a couple games last week due to injury.  Look for the Preds’ waterbug to be a creative force for the Preds tonight. 

Wide Receiver:  In the absence of Mike Green, Capitals’ defenseman Dennis Wideman has been receiving a boatload of ice time, including over 61 minutes combined in two games last weekend.  Wideman is easily the Caps’ ice time leader at 23:03 per game, and is leading the team’s defenders with 3 goals and 12 points.  He has been key in keeping the Capitals attack going and keying the powerplay’s success.  With some injured defensemen returning to the lineup tonight, look for Wideman to return to more normal ice time levels but to still be the central part of the Caps breakouts.