Tag Archives: Nashville Predators

Capitals Prove Hybrid System Combining Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter’s Philosophies Is Possible

By Adam Vingan

Tuesday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators began with a celebration of Mike Knuble’s career. A video presentation highlighted Knuble’s tenure in Washington, which began three years ago. Coincidentally, the Caps’ performance in a 4-1 win definitely harked back to those high-flying days of old.

In the first period, the Caps were aggressive in the offensive zone. Anders Lindback was a 6’6″ sitting duck as Washington fired 12 shots in his direction (seven of which were either missed or blocked) within the first six-plus minutes of the game. The thirteenth shot attempt was Alex Ovechkin’s vintage breakaway goal, one that saw him seal off Jonathan Blum, spin around him and cut right to the net. Nicklas Backstrom added to the Caps’ lead with an impressive wraparound goal that had Jerred Smithson hanging on for dear life behind the net.

“I thought we came out well in the first period,” head coach Dale Hunter said. “We were ready to play. We took the play to them pretty good and we jumped on them early.”

In the third period, the Caps put the Predators away when Alexander Semin finished Marcus Johansson’s drop pass with a curl-and-drag snap shot that beat Lindback top shelf, marking the first time since last October 30 that Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin scored in the same game. Add to that a Troy Brouwer deflection goal on the power play and it was definitely a classic night in Washington.

The Caps’ performance against the Predators Tuesday was a far cry from their 3-1 loss to the same team November 15. After a 55-minute defensive struggle, Brouwer broke through to give Washington a 1-0 lead, but it lasted all of 28 seconds before Nashville scored three unanswered goals in just under four minutes to earn the victory.

That game was one of Bruce Boudreau’s final games behind the Caps’ bench, but flashes of his early days appeared Tuesday as all four goals were scored in highlight reel fashion (four goals in general was something to behold, considering the Caps had a total of three in their last three games). Yet, despite the Boudreau-esque offensive performance, Hunter’s influence could be seen as well. The Caps started the game with aggressive forechecking and strong cycling in the offensive zone. Washington also held Nashville without a shot for the first 7:32 (the rebound of said shot actually started the break that led to Ovechkin’s goal) and allowed only 21 total.

In the second period, the Caps only had three shots on goal as they favored the trap to keep the Predators pinned down while also killing three penalties (the penalty kill was a perfect 5/5). In the third, the Caps – as they’ve been known to do under Hunter – did not record a shot on goal until later in the third period with the first shot of Tuesday’s third period coming at the 14:03 mark, which came after Sergei Kostitsyn’s goal that made it a 2-1 game.

Regardless, Tuesday’s game proved that it is possible for Washington to combine the high-tempo and highly-skilled offensive game that they patented years ago with the new, defensively-responsible system that its new coach has implemented.

“I think we want to dictate our game and we want to dictate our style and this system, so it was pretty cool,” Ovechkin said. “I think all the team played together today. We played hard and I think we deserved to win.”

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The Anatomy Of A Five-Minute Collapse

By Adam Vingan

Hockey is a 60-minute sport. Unfortunately for the Washington Capitals, they seemingly haven’t received that memo this season. Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators was en route to possibly becoming one of Washington’s most complete performances of the season. After 55 minutes of scoreless hockey and unbelievable saves between Pekka Rinne and Tomas Vokoun, Troy Brouwer finally solved the former when his wrist shot beat Rinne blocker side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with just 4:46 remaining.

Based on the Caps’ tough defensive play all night and Vokoun’s steady hand in net, a win seemed inevitable, but then you remember that this is the Caps we’re talking about. The following is a dissection of the anatomy of a five-minute collapse.

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Capitals Set To Embark On Longest Road Trip Of Season So Far Looking To Rebound

By Adam Vingan

The Washington Capitals are about to embark on a six-day, three-game road trip. Trips like that are common in all sports. Yet, there is nothing traditional about a road trip that will stop in Nashville, Winnipeg and Toronto between Tuesday and Saturday. In those six days, the Caps will travel over 3,700 miles.

The first stop, against the Predators Tuesday, will see two Caps – Tomas Vokoun and Joel Ward – return to old stomping grounds. Vokoun, however, has played in Nashville since leaving there in 2007. Ward technically has, having played in the second of two preseason games between Washington and Nashville at Bridgestone Arena, but Tuesday will be his first official visit back since signing with the Caps this summer.

“I need a win,” Ward said with a laugh after Monday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “Need some bragging rights here. It should be fun. I get a chance to see some familiar faces.”

Ward said he’s already heard from some of his former teammates about his return while playing fantasy football.

“They’ve been giving it to me already about that,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll throw a few jabs at me. I’m not sure before the game, but I’m sure during the game for sure.”

Joking aside, Ward knows what his new team is in for against his former team, one that just played its 1,000th game in franchise history this weekend. Nashville defeated Washington twice during the preseason and are currently in the thick of things in the Central Division and Western Conference at 8-5-3. The Predators also boast one of the league’s best goaltenders in Pekka Rinne and what head coach Bruce Boudreau called “the best [defensive] pairing in the National Hockey League” in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.

“It’s a good team,” Ward said. “It’s always been a pretty solid since I’ve been there. It’s a hard-working team that’s well organized. I think the media kind of knocks them down a little bit because they’re not a high-profile team and they don’t have many TV games. When you play them face-to-face, you know what you’re going to be up against and it’s going to be a tough game for us tomorrow.”

Tuesday’s game will not be the only tough game on this road trip. Though the Jets are struggling with just 13 points this season, the MTS Centre has been an intimidating environment all season long as Winnipeg fans are still enjoying the honeymoon phase of hockey’s return to Manitoba. The Caps will also be featured on “Hockey Night In Canada” Saturday against a Maple Leafs team that, like the Caps, has 21 points this season and currently leads the Northeast Division.

The Caps are just one of three teams in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Montreal) and six teams overall (Detroit, Chicago, Columbus) who have yet to play three straight road games this season and it seems that now is the perfect time for them to take their longest road trip of the season so far. After two losses at home against the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils last week, the Caps can leave Washington behind for a few days and focus with fewer distractions.

“We’re not running from anything,” Mike Knuble said. “We’ve been out West for a while, for a week. It’s a pretty comfortable pace. It’s not like you’re playing three in four. You play and you get a day off and travel’s not overly taxing. You stay in a groove of ‘play, rest, play, rest, play, rest.’ I think we work well that way.”

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Joel Ward Looks To Establish Himself As A Washington Capital

By Adam Vingan

Joel Ward is far from being a household name. That’s what happens when you play hockey in a market like Nashville: one that may be growing exponentially, but is still unheralded. In fact, Ward and his former employer have a lot in common. This past postseason, Ward and the Predators put themselves on the map as they advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. And just like the Predators broke through, so did Ward as he led Nashville with seven goals, six assists and 13 points in 12 playoff games.

Ward was able to turn his two-week coming out party into a four-year contract worth $12 million with the Washington Capitals Friday. According to General Manager George McPhee, 16 teams – over half of the NHL – were interested in Ward’s services.

“They were very high on my list,” Ward said in regards to Washington. “One of the teams I’ve actually had a chance to visit the city before and it’s been one of the teams on my list. I like the way they’re made up and with the skill level they have, if I can help on the back end, so to speak, that’s going to be a positive thing. I’m looking forward to it. I always like what the Caps do every season, and I just hope I can kind of come in and help push them over the edge.”

Ward’s story is one of a journeyman who did not play his first full NHL season until he was 28 years old. Ward spent four years at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada -and has since become their most notable hockey alumnus – before joining the Houston Aeros of the AHL. After 11 games with the Minnesota Wild in 2006-07, Ward spent the entire 2007-08 season in Houston before being signed by Nashville as an unrestricted free agent.

During his first season in the “Music City,” Ward made plenty of noise, scoring a career-high 17 goals. His production has wavered since then (13 goals in 2009-10, 10 in 2010-11), but his presence was definitely felt. Think of Ward as a poor man’s Tim Thomas. Thomas did not crack the Boston Bruins’ lineup full-time until he was 31 years old. And most hockey fans know how Thomas’ career has ended up so far.

While it may a stretch to continue comparing Ward’s career to Thomas’, the former, much like the latter, became relevant in the postseason. McPhee said Friday that he would rather have a player like Ward who “gets 10 or 15 [goals] in the regular season, but delivers in the playoffs than someone who gets 25 and doesn’t.” And Ward, who has nine goals in 18 career playoff games, relishes that opportunity.

“I love playoff hockey,” Ward said. “It’s such a fun time of the year. Anytime knowing you’re going to make the playoffs every year and being consistent at it and have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, it’s always a good feeling, and that was one of the things I was looking forward to and one of the reasons I signed with Nashville. Again, I think everyone thrives on it. You want to try hoist the Stanley Cup, and that’s what I’m going to try to do and hopefully bring that to D.C.”

Much like Matt Bradley before him, the less you hear about Ward, the better he is playing. Ward’s not flashy; he is an industrious player with a never-quit work ethic. As he said himself, Ward will “play in all different areas of the game, five on five, four on four, whatever the case may be, killing penalties, blocking shots or power play.” He just “[wants] to be on the ice and help my team win.” There is not much more a team or a fanbase can ask for.

Ward’s penchant for playing his best when the lights are brightest (along with his grit) will only help Washington get over the proverbial hump. Last season, Ward led Nashville over their hump – the first round – and he will look to do the same for the Caps next season in getting them past the second round for the first time since 1998.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge as I’m sure all the guys are of winning the Stanley Cup,” Ward said. “It’s everyone’s dream, and I just want to contribute and help out and be part of it.”

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Caps Wrap: Good Night For A Heart Attack

A band called Nashville P*ssy (minus the asterisk) has a song entitled “Good Night For A Heart Attack.” Coincidentally, on a Saturday night in Nashville, the Capitals narrowly avoided such a predicament in a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over a game Predators club that dominated the contest for over two periods.

While the Caps did a great job in turning on their game in the third period and left the Bridgestone Arena with two points, it can be argued that Washington did not deserve to win. To be honest, the Caps have been outplayed in almost every period that they’ve played thus far.

Minus the two overtime periods that the Capitals have played this season (15 total periods), Washington has only truly dominated three: the second and third periods against New Jersey and the third period against Nashville. Saturday’s game was a perfect example of what has plagued the Caps through the first five games. Washington’s defense (albeit shorthanded without Mike Green and Tom Poti) was nonexistent for 40 minutes, giving the Predators wide-open chances in the slot and along the boards several times. And when the Caps’ offense got control of the puck, it lost it just as fast. Craig Laughlin mentioned during Saturday’s telecast that the Caps were moving forward without getting control of the puck, much like a wide receiver running before catching the ball. This led to even more chances for the Predators, who had 30 shots after two periods and 22 before the halfway mark of the second period.

If the Capitals proved anything in the third period, it is that they cannot be stopped once momentum is on their side. Nashville only put nine shots on Michal Neuvirth in the third and overtime frames, not necessarily because the defense showed up, but because the offense finally got their feet underneath them. Alexander Semin replaced committing untimely penalties with generating great scoring chances; he fooled Predators goaltender Anders Lindback (who had a brilliant night in net) and barely missed on a high wrist shot and a breakaway. The energy lines utilized great forechecking to set up the tying goal and the usual suspects connected on the game-winning goal to motor out of the Music City with the win.

Three of the first four wins for Washington have been of the comeback variety. This trend cannot continue. Knowing that the Capitals can come back from any deficit at any time will make opponents nervous, but the Caps cannot afford to expend energy trying to tie games on a regular basis. Neuvirth has been the best player so far this year as he continues to make unbelievable saves to keep the Caps close. The rest of the team needs to give Neuvirth a break.

Saturday’s win will carry momentum into next week, but there will come a time where Washington will need to preserve a lead instead of cutting into it. The Capitals avoided a heart attack. But that might not be the case for all of us watching.

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Capital Eyes On Nashville – Game 5

Washington Capitals (3-1-0) v. Nashville Predators (3-0-0)

8:00 PM EST – Bridgestone Arena – Nashville, Tennessee

TV/Radio: CSN-DC; Caps Radio 1500

Last game: In another escape act, Nicklas Backstrom deflected in a slap shot from Alex Ovechkin during a power play late in the third period to give the Capitals a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders. The Capitals ended their homestand 3-0.

Possible lineup for Washington:

Forwards

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Knuble

Semin – Fleischmann – Laich

Chimera – Hendricks – Fehr

King – Steckel – Gordon

Defense

Schultz, Erskine, Alzner, Carlson, Sloan, Fahey

Goal

Neuvirth/Varlamov

Possible lineup for Nashville:

Forwards

Wilson – Goc  – Dumont
Sullivan – O’Reilly – Hornqvist
Ward – Legwand – Kostitsyn
Belak – Smithson – Tootoo
Defense
Suter – Weber
Bouillon – Klein
O’Brien – Franson
Goal
Rinne
Outlook: This will be the third time that the Capitals and Predators will have met in the past month. In two preseason games, the Capitals won the first matchup 2-1 and lost the second 3-0. The Capitals are dealing with many injuries; Marcus Johansson (foot) and Matt Bradley (lower body injury) are game-time decisions, while Tom Poti’s (lower body) status is unclear. Earlier today, head coach Bruce Boudreau announced that Mike Green will not be available for tomorrow’s game while he recovers from his “stinger” suffered in Wednesday’s game. A call=up from Hershey may be necessary.

Despite the familiarity, the Capitals are in for a test against the undefeated Preds, especially on special teams. According to Capitals insider, Nashville is 4/13 (30.8%) on the power play and all of its GWGs have come with the man advantage. Nashville’s penalty kill, however, is 3/9, which will give the Capitals a chance to awaken their dormant power play. Goalie Pekka Rinne sat out for the past two games with a lower body injury, but should start tomorrow night. Nashville is scoring 3.67 G/G, just ahead of Washington’s 3.5 and veteran Steve Sullivan leads the team with four goals, tied with Alex Ovechkin for the league lead.

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Capital Eyes On Nashville – Preseason Game 2

Washington Capitals v. Nashville Predators

8:00 PM EST – Bridgestone Arena – Nashville, Tennessee

TV/Radio: N/A

Possible lineup for Washington (according to Capitals Insider):

Forwards – Keith Aucoin, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Francois Bouchard, Cody Eakin, Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks, Marcus Johansson, Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Grant McNeill and Steve Pinizzotto.

Defense – John Erskine, Mike Green, Brian Fahey, Lawrence Nycholat, Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz.

Goaltender – Michal Neuvirth and Dany Sabourin

Outlook: The Capitals kicked off the preseason Wednesday with a convincing 6-2 victory over Columbus. Matt Hendricks recorded a hat trick, while Tomas Fleischmann added two goals and Alexander Semin had three assists. Johansson also assisted on two goals and Semyon Varlamov stopped every shot he faced in limited action.

There is quite a bit of turnover on Saturday’s roster. Only seven players who saw action Thursday will play tomorrow. Neuvirth will get the start and according to head coach Bruce Boudreau, Neuvirth and Sabourin will each play half of the game. Boudreau also said that those not traveling to Nashville will probably play in next Tuesday’s preseason home opener against Boston.

Seven cuts were made Thursday, leaving 41 players left in training camp for a maximum of 23 spots. Only a few spots are open and with Hershey’s training camp starting next week, this game could be make-or-break for several prospects.

Nashville has played two games so far, both against Carolina. The Predators are playing an unusual back-to-back-to-back slate. Most of Nashville’s key players, such as Martin Erat, Ryan Suter, David Legwand and Jordin Tootoo, appeared in Friday’s game, so it’ll be interesting to see which Preds suit up Saturday. Starting goaltender Pekka Rinne started Thursday and should play against the Capitals.

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