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Caps Pounce on Preds, 5-2

December 7, 2013

On Tuesday night against Carolina, the Caps started strong but didn’t finish, and the Canes scored the game’s first four goal en route to a 4-1 win over Washington. On Saturday against the Nashville Predators, the Caps scored three in the first and maintained that margin in a 5-2 home ice win over the Preds.


The Caps had several good chances to break the seal on the scoresheet before they actually did so. In the seventh minute of the first, the Mikhail Grabovski line worked the puck around the Nashville end, with Eric Fehr launching a shot from the right wing wall. Nashville netminder Marek Mazanec made the save, but the puck fell at his feet. Caps winger Troy Brouwer fought off a Ryan Ellis check and backhanded it home for a 1-0 Washington lead at 6:44 of the first.


Several minutes later, Nashville forward Rich Clune took an offensive zone interference call. Before he could even warm the penalty box bench, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom won the offensive zone draw back to Alex Ovechkin, and the Caps captain blasted a shot that beat Mazanec high to the blocker side, doubling the Washington lead to 2-0 at 13:09 of the first.


The Caps struck again just over three minutes later after another Backstrom face-off win in the Nashville end, this time at even strength. Backstrom won the draw back to Karl Alzner at the left point, and he passed to partner Mike Green on the right side of the blueline. Green skated down the wall just a bit, then returned the puck to Alzner, who had slid over to center point. Alzner’s slap shot made it through a screen and past Mazanec.


Perhaps attempting to atone for his penalty that enabled the Caps to add to their lead, and also trying to spark his team out of a 3-0 hole, Clune picked a fight with Washington winger Tom Wilson just 11 seconds after the Alzner goal. Clune landed a couple shots early, but Wilson dropped some hard bombs on the Nashville winger late.


Washington couldn’t quite escape the period with that three-goal lead, though. With less than a half a minute remaining, Nashville defenseman Roman Josi lofted a waist-high shot that went past the outstretched glove of Capitals netminder Braden Holtby. The Caps had to settle for a 3-1 lead after the game’s first 20 minutes.


“Lately a lot of the time we’ve been coming from behind,” notes Brouwer, “having to come down from either one or two goals. 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. We were in a good situation after the first period.”


Uplifted by their late goal in the first, the Predators came out hard in the second. Washington weathered that storm, then regained a territorial edge in the second half of a scoreless middle stanza.


Early in the third, the Caps pushed their lead back to three goals when Nate Schmidt netted the first goal of his NHL career. Taking a sublime feed from Martin Erat in the opposite corner, Schmidt launched a slapper from the left point that beat Mazenec, putting the Caps up 4-1 at 3:29 of the third.


Washington’s penchant for surrendering goals soon after netting one of its own cropped up again on Saturday. A mere 23 seconds after Schmidt’s goal, Nashville’s Eric Nystrom beat Holtby to the far side with a shot from the right dot. With 16:08 left, it was a 4-2 game.


The Caps had a chance to administer the dagger with a power play near the midpoint of the frame, but were unable to strike.


With Nashville desperately vying to close the deficit to one, the Predators opened up their offensive throttle more frequently in the second half of the period, and Washington was finally able to cash in on an odd-man rush that resulted from the Preds’ attack zone pressure. Grabovski carried out of the Washington end on a 4-on-3 rush, leaving the puck for Fehr soon after he crossed the Nashville line. Fehr fired a wrist rocket high to the far side to account for the 5-2 final.


“We did a lot of good things actually to get the lead,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We talked about that and we put ourselves in a good position. You’re in the driver’s seat that obviously helps. We got three goals off faceoffs tonight, which is an important thing.


“We went to the right spot on [Brouwer’s] goal. We talked about the cycle and having a guy in front, [Brouwer] got rewarded on that [goal]. We had a good power play, quick.


“And then the third goal - same sort of stuff. We did the right things, we’ve been working a lot on [defense], getting the puck to the net and getting it through traffic. [Backstrom] was a little far out but still had half a screen. The puck had eyes.”


With the victory, Washington regained sole possession of second place in the Metro, leapfrogging the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps are one point clear of the Canes and the New York Rangers, and Washington finishes the weekend with a Sunday night tilt against the Blueshirts in Manhattan.


Number One – Schmidt’s first NHL goal came in his 25th game and on his 37th shot on goal. Known for his offensive prowess – although primarily playmaking – Schmidt has been concentrating his efforts on improving in his own end of the ice.


“A little bit, not so much,” replies Schmidt when asked if not having a goal was weighing on him at all. “I’ve been used to previously having maybe more points. But just the nature of being a rookie and being a first-year defenseman, it’s going to come. We’ve just got to wait for a guy like Marty, who makes a great play for me just to get a shot through.


“That’s pretty much what we talk about all the time with Oatesy and Calle [Johansson], just getting pucks to the net and hoping we’ve got guys screening and in front of the net. I think tonight we did a great job. We tipped a lot of pucks on net, and the goaltender I don’t think saw many shots that cleanly tonight.”


Last Saturday night, Schmidt picked up a secondary assist on Ovechkin’s game-winning overtime goal against the Islanders in New York. He has a goal and four assists on the season.


He Was Due – Tonight was Alzner’s 148th game at Verizon Center, and his goal against the Predators was the first he has ever scored in a Caps home game, in the regular season or the playoffs.


And coincidentally enough, Alzner’s goal tonight came one day after the five-year anniversary of his first NHL goal, a Saturday night strike against the Maple Leafs in Toronto in a 2-1 Washington win. More importantly, his goal against Nashville proved to be the game-winner.


“That’s what I’m here for,” jokes Alzner. “I’m a game closer. I guess, ‘The Finisher,’ they can call me. It’s funny, but maybe only two of all the goals I’ve scored have come in a win. A lot of times I score and we lose the game. I hated that, so I’m happy that we get a win after I score.”


Alzner’s sixth career goal came in his 292nd career NHL game, and maybe it’s the infrequency that is skewing his perception, but King Karl is shortchanging himself. Like Mikey in “Swingers,” he’s money. He has scored three of his half dozen markers in Capitals victories and three in Washington losses.


Alas, Alzner’s lone playoff tally – which came just last spring – did come on the road (natch) and in a Capitals loss to the Rangers.


Alzner’s goal on Saturday night against Nashville was his first career game-winner and his first since Feb. 12 against Florida.


Wey In – A year ago at this time, defenseman Patrick Wey was playing collegiate hockey, in the midst of his senior season with Boston College. A month ago at this time, Wey was a member of the ECHL Reading Royals.


On Saturday night at Verizon Center, Wey found himself installed into the Washington lineup for his first career NHL game.


“He had good practices,” said Oates on Saturday morning of Wey, who was recalled from AHL Hershey on Thursday. “He looked fine. [Caps general manager] George [McPhee] watched him down in Hershey and we thought we’d put him in.


“It’s his first night; I’m sure he is going to be so jacked. It can be overwhelming. You’ve just got to try to keep him as relaxed as possible.”


After somewhat of a rocky start Wey settled down and gave the Caps a reasonably solid 13:36 worth of work in his maiden NHL voyage. He had one shot on net, one hit and one blocked shot on the night.


Wey is the 12th different defenseman deployed by the Capitals this season, and the sixth different blueliner to take the ice with fewer than 100 games worth of NHL experience for the Caps this season. He is the 11th player overall with fewer than 100 games in the league to pull on the Washington sweater this season.


Saturday Night Special – Holtby continued his domination of the best night of the week. In 19 career starts on Saturday night, Holtby is now 14-3-2 with three shutouts, a 2.00 GAA and a .936 save pct.


Rebound – Tonight’s game marked the 21st time in his NHL career that Holtby has taken the crease after a game in which he was either pulled and/or surrendered four or more goals. Coming into Saturday’s game, he was 14-4-1 with a 2.11 GAA and a .930 save pct. in the start immediately following those outings.


Holtby raised that mark to 15-4-1 in earning his 13th win of the season against the Preds. With 34 stops on the 36 shots he faced in Saturday’s game, Holtby also aided his qualitative numbers in those situations as well.


Thirty – Saturday’s game marks the 25th time in 29 games this season that the Capitals have permitted 30 or more shots on net.


Firsts – Josi became the latest in a rather long line of players to net their first goal of the season against Washington in the last month.


Beginning with the Caps’ Nov. 7 game against Minnesota when Wild forward Charlie Coyle netted his first goal of the season, and running through tonight when Josi tallied his initial marker of the season, Washington has surrendered nine players’ first goals of the season in its last 14 games.


In both its Nov. 22 and Nov. 27 losses to Montreal and Ottawa, respectively, the Capitals allowed two players’ first goals of the season.


Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears continued a weekend road journey with a Saturday night visit with the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport. A night after earning a 4-2 win over the Baby Sens in Binghamton, Hershey came up on the short end of the same score in Bridgeport.


David Kolomatis netted his third and Jamie Johnson his first goal of the season to account for the Hershey scoring.


David Leggio stopped 22 of the 25 shots he faced in the Bears’ goal.


Hershey returns to action on Wednesday when it again visits the Baby Sens in Binghamton.


Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals returned home to host the Fort Wayne Komets a night after dropping a 4-3 road decision to the Nailers in Wheeling. The Royals were on the short end of a 7-2 drubbing at the hands of the Komets.


Fort Wayne scored three in the first and four in the third to win going away. Louie Caporusso and Ned Lukacevic tallied in a losing effort for the Royals. Brandon Anderson surrendered all seven goals on 31 shots in the Reading crease.


By The Numbers – Holtby’s win over Nashville on Saturday was the 50th of his NHL career … Mike Green’s 24:52 led Washington in ice time … Wilson (8:44) was the only Capitals player who did not skate at least 10 minutes in Saturday’s game, and he might have if not for his five-minute major for fighting … Ovechkin teed up a team-high 15 shots on the night, getting a team-high four on net … Aaron Volpatti led the Capitals with four hits … Backstrom, Alzner and Schmidt tied for the Caps’ team lead with three blocked shots each.