March 30 vs. Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena
Time: 8:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (34-28-12)
Nashville Predators (32-32-11)
Washington concludes a grueling month of March with a visit to Music City to take on the Nashville Predators on Sunday night. The game is the Capitals’ first in the Central time zone since Jan. 4 and it starts a stretch in which the Caps will play five of their next six games away from the District.
Sunday’s game in Nashville is also the second in as many days for the Caps; they came out on the short end of a 4-2 score in a Saturday matinee affair against the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center. That loss ended Washington’s streak of six games with at least a point, the team’s longest such streak during the 2013-14 campaign.
Entering the day in a four-way tie for the final two Eastern Conference playoff berths, the Capitals came out sluggish in Saturday’s loss to the Bruins. Washington failed to convert on two power play chances with the game was still scoreless, and then the Caps surrendered three goals – one of them on the power play – in a span of less than six minutes as the Bruins roared to a commanding 3-0 lead in the first half of the second period.
Washington righted the ship a bit, and Jason Chimera’s goal with 10 seconds left in the middle frame gave the Caps some life. The Capitals played well and had a chance to pull closer in the third, but again were unable to cash in on a power play opportunity and found themselves without a point for the first time in their last seven games (4-1-2).
“We’ve got to know that against any team – like we’ve said before – you can’t just show up for 20 [minutes],” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “It sucks sometimes because you go out there and you feel like you don’t do anything because you don’t touch the puck or you don’t get a scoring chance. For us [defensemen], you don’t make a nice breakout pass or something. But those are the little things that we need to chip away at. I don’t think [the Bruins] care about who gets the glory or who makes the nice plays. It’s just doing your job. I think sometimes we don’t necessarily do enough of that. We try and do more than our job.”
Washington has posted a 6-5-3 mark in the month of March and the Capitals are 7-5-3 since the NHL’s Olympic break concluded. Washington is 12-7-4 since halting a season-high seven-game winless streak (0-5-2) late in January.
Now, with only eight games remaining in the regular season, the Caps are two points south of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. They can’t afford to skid, even though most of their remaining schedule will be played on the road.
“We have no choice,” says Chimera. “We have to strap on our boots. We need more from everyone five-on-five. Our best players have got to be our best players and it goes right up and down [the lineup from] there. We’ve got to start scoring more five-on-five goals and get momentum. We can’t just rely on the power play. We get nothing on the power play today; you’ve got to get something five-on-five. It starts right from our best players and it goes right on down.”
The Caps’ best players haven’t been their best players in five-on-five play recently, not this month.
Since the Olympic break ended 15 games ago, Chimera is Washington’s leader with 10 even-strength points (two goals, eight assists). That’s the same number of points that Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green – the remaining three members of the vaunted “Young Guns” foursome – have combined to record at even strength in those same 15 games.
Chimera’s linemates are second and third on that list; Ward with seven (four goals, three assists) and Fehr with six (three goals, three assists) points. The “Gang Green” trio has been on the ice for 13 of the 19 goals the Capitals have scored in five-on-five play in the month of March.
Fehr, Chimera and Ward rank fifth, eighth and ninth, respectively, among all Washington forwards in average even-strength ice time per game this season (at least 50 games played). The three Caps forwards with the highest average ice time totals per game are Ovechkin, Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. That threesome has combined for four points (all assists) at even-strength in 14 March games.
Ovechkin has not had an even-strength point in the month of March; his last point in five-on-five play came when he had a goal – the game-winner – and an assist as part of a three-point night in Washington’s 5-4 win over the Panthers in South Florida on Feb. 27. Those points came in the Caps’ first game back from the Olympic break.
There are a couple of ways of looking at the Caps’ record right now. Washington has recorded at least a point in six of its last seven games (4-1-2). But it has also lost three of its last four games (1-1-2).
Excluding Troy Brouwer’s empty-net goal in the Caps’ 4-2 win over Toronto on March 16, it has been four weeks since the last time one of Washington’s top five forwards (in terms of ice time per game) scored a five-on-five goal. That was Marcus Johansson’s March 2 tally against the Flyers.
Again excluding Brouwer’s aforementioned empty-netter, the Caps have managed only 14 five-on-five tallies from the entire roster in the last dozen games, posting a pedestrian 5-5-2 mark in the process.
Given the absolute dearth of contributions from the Caps’ top forwards at even strength throughout the month of March, it’s rather remarkable that Washington still maintains a pulse in its pursuit of a playoff berth.
Nashville’s own hopes for a playoff berth are all but extinguished. With only seven games remaining on their schedule, the Preds trail the Phoenix Coyotes by nine points for the final playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference.
The Preds were last in action on Friday when they were on the short end of a 7-3 shellacking at the hands of the Stars in Dallas. Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne started and went the distance in that game, surrendering seven goals on 29 shots.
Since returning from hip surgery that sidelined him for more than four months, Rinne is 3-6-1 with a 3.34 GAA and an .884 save pct. Rinne’s absence contributed to the Preds’ inability to establish any real consistency this season. Nashville has yet to win more than three games in succession in 2013-14.
The Preds have posted a 3-1-1 mark in their last five games. They won their last home game, a 6-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on March 27. That victory halted a six-game losing streak (0-5-1) for the Predators at Bridgestone.
Predators defenseman Shea Weber is one of three NHL defensemen who currently leads his team in scoring. He is also tied for the league lead among blueliners with 20 goals.
The Caps would be wise not to count on their power play for much of a contribution in Saturday’s game against Nashville. The disciplined Preds have been shorthanded two or fewer times in nine of their last 15 games.
Notes – Washington’s last visit to Music City came on Nov. 15, 2011 when Bruce Boudreau was still the Caps’ coach … The Caps won the previous meeting between the two teams this season, a 5-2 triumph on Dec. 7 at Verizon Center.