Caps Top Struggling Predators

The Washington Capitals, a mediocre 3-5 since mid-November, had a breakout game Saturday night, crushing Nashville 5-2 and handing the Predators their fifth loss in a row. The game against Nashville was the first in the Capitals fifth set of back-to-back games so far this season. They travel to Madison Square Garden tomorrow night to face the New York Rangers at 7 p.m.

Both Troy Brouwer and Karl Alzner broke out of lengthy goal scoring slumps, with Brouwer notching his first goal since November 9th and Alzner scoring his first goal of the year and first since February 12, 2013. Alzner’s goal also marked his first career goal at the Verizon Center.

“He’s been asked to (generate more offense) for sure,” Caps head coach Adam Oates said of Alzner. “I’ve asked him to add (offense) to his game. I know it’s still defense first, but he plays so many minutes, every little touch that he makes just benefits us.”

Rookie blueliner Nate Schmidt added his first goal in the NHL and defenseman Patrick Wey made his NHL debut in the win. Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Capitals and Braden Holtby made 34 saves.

“It’s an incredible feeling to share with your teammates,” an effervescent Schmidt said of his first goal.

Broken slumps and exciting milestones aside, the win against Nashville was a well-rounded effort for the Capitals. They achieved what has largely been elusive for them so far this season – a strong start.

“Lately a lot of the time we’ve been coming from behind, having to come down from either one or two goals,” Brouwer said. “You’re not going to have a ton of success later on in the season doing that. We were able to squeeze out some points here and there, but you can only win so many games like that.”

After an early penalty kill, Washington gained momentum, seized control of the play and didn’t relent until the final buzzer. Even after building a 3-0 lead, they kept pressure on Nashville, sustained extensive time in the offensive zone and didn’t allow an obscene amount of shots. They did not get discouraged when Predators defenseman Roman Josi scored with 22 seconds left in the first period to cut Washington’s lead to two. They kept their composure when, in the final period, Nashville scored a quick answer goal to cut the home team’s lead from three goals to two with nearly an entire period remaining in the game.

Since the Caps built an early lead and were able to distribute ice time throughout four lines, they should be well rested and fresh for tomorrow night’s Metropolitan matchup in New York.

“Getting out front, especially early in the first, was one of the few things before the game we talked about,” Schmidt said. “Make them do an uphill battle for the rest of the game. We’ve been the ones who’ve been behind a lot lately.”

After the game, Oates said he had not yet decided who would be in net tomorrow night in New York.

Another specific positive from the game that Oates brought up in his post-game press conference was the Capitals performance in the faceoff circle. The Caps outperformed the Preds 53 percent to 47 percent and scored three goals following faceoff wins.

While both teams limped into Saturday’s tilt, the Predators struggles are amplified because of the strength of the Western Conference. In addition, the loss against the Capitals marked their 20th game without injured starting goalie Pekka Rinne. Nashville’s next chance to climb the standings comes this Tuesday, also against the New York Rangers.

Game Summary:

Troy Brouwer scored his first goal in nearly a month, corralling Eric Fehr’s rebound and backhanding the puck past Marek Mazanec’s right pad at 6:44 of the first period. Washington doubled their lead off of a set faceoff play later in the first period. Just three seconds into their first power play of the night, Nicklas Backstrom cleanly won a faceoff and shoveled the puck back to Alexander Ovechkin, who blasted a slapshot past Mazanec for his 22nd goal of the season.

After another faceoff win, Karl Alzner’s shot from the point found its way through traffic and through Mazanec’s five-hole. It was Alzner’s first goal of the season and first since February 12, 2013.

The early 3-0 lead resulted in one of Tom Wilson’s more spirited bouts of the season, with Jumbotron replays of the fight drawing ooh’s and aah’s from the Verizon Center crowd.

Preds defenseman Roman Josi cut Nashville’s deficit to two with his first goal of the season with only 22 seconds left in the first period.

The Caps held onto their 3-1 lead through two periods before Nate Schmidt scored his first goal in the NHL to give Washington a 4-1 advantage at 3:29 of the third period.

Predators forward Eric Nystrom answered with his fifth goal of the season only 23 seconds later, but Nashville never really made a serious push and Eric Fehr ended up capping the scoring with Washington’s fifth goal of the night at 14:50 of the third period.

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