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Caps Pounce on Preds, 4-1

September 25, 2013

Eric Fehr scored twice and Michal Neuvirth came within seconds of a shutout as the Washington Capitals downed the Nashville Predators 4-1 in a preseason game at Verizon Center on Wednesday.


After a couple of strong early scoring chances from Martin Erat and Dane Byers, Washington drew first blood. Mikhail Grabovski forced a turnover at the Nashville line and quickly fed the puck to the top of the paint where Fehr was Johnny-on-the-spot. Fehr put a couple of quick moves on Nashville netminder Carter Hutton and calmly bagged his second goal of the preseason.


“I saw the puck come to me and I felt that I had quite a bit of time,” says Fehr, “so I made sure the puck was settled down and didn’t want to rush it.”


The Caps had a chance to add to their advantage less than two minutes later, getting a power play and then a two-man advantage when the Preds’ Kevin Klein and Paul Gaustad were assessed minor penalties within 64 seconds of one another. Washington’s power play was dominant, moving the puck around crisply and efficiently and generating a bevy of shots, but no goals.


Caps defenseman Karl Alzner kept the game scoreless by sweeping a loose puck out of the paint in the Washington end after the disc squeezed through Neuvirth.


In the second, the Caps salted the game away. The team’s top line combined for the game’s prettiest goal just before the five-minute mark. Alex Ovechkin swung at a puck in midair near the left wing wall just inside the Nashville line. He managed to get enough of it to direct it right to Marcus Johansson who in turn quickly fed Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom’s one-timer went into a yawning cage to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.


Fehr notched his second of the night at 6:01 of the second. Grabovski won an offensive zone draw, and Dane Byers won a battle in the left corner. Fehr came by to help, and cut right from the corner to the net unimpeded, firing a wrist shot that beat Hutton to make it a 3-0 game.


Ovechkin netted a power play goal in the final minute of the period, Grabovski and Backstrom assisting.


The Caps maintained that lead into the game’s final minute, but Erat was whistled for an offensive zone interference infraction at 18:23. With Erat in the box, Nashville’s Gabriel Bourque scored a power play goal at 19:46 of the final frame to close out the scoring and spoil Neuvirth’s whitewash bid.


Helping Hands – Playing in his first game as a member of the Capitals at Verizon Center, Grabovski finished the night with three assists and a plus-2 in 15:10 worth of work. He also won all three face-offs he took on the night.


“I think it’s going well for everyone,” says Grabovski. “I’m very happy to play on the home ice, just playing my best.”


Grabovski has five assists in two preseason games this fall.


Hello, Old Friend – Just shy of six months ago, the Caps and Nashville Predators made a three-player trade. Washington shipped forward prospect Filip Forsberg to Nashville in exchange for left wing Erat and center Michael Latta.


On Wednesday at Verizon Center, Erat and Latta got their first chance to face their former employer. Erat centered a line with Jason Chimera and Troy Brouwer. He won four of his 11 face-offs on the night, took a pair of minor penalties and generated two shots on net in 15:50 worth of work on the night.


Latta dropped the gloves with Nashville’s Rich Clune just 25 seconds after opening puck drop. He won four of 10 draws and logged 11:18 in the game.


Also, ex-Capital Matt Hendricks returned to the District for the first time since signing a four-year deal to join the Preds as an unrestricted free agent on July 5 of this year.


Hendricks won three of 11 face-offs, recorded three hits and four shots on net and was a minus-1 in 15:19 of ice time.


Bout Time – In addition to Latta’s fight, Jay Beagle fought with the Preds’ Eric Nystrom and Steve Oleksy scrapped with Nashville pivot Mike Fisher.  Those three bouts give Washington a total of eight fights in its last two games, with seven different players dropping the mitts for the Caps during that span.


Aaron Volpatti, Joel Rechlicz (twice), Byers and Michal Cajkovski went at it with various members of the Bruins in Boston on Monday night.


No Overtime Needed – For the first time in six preseason games, the Caps were able to take care of business without overtime or a shootout. Washington is 3-0-3 during the exhibition season, and Wednesday’s win ended a spell of three straight setbacks.


Fehr’s second goal gave the Caps a lead of more than two goals for the first time in the preseason.


“I’m not going to lie,” says Fehr, “it felt pretty good to not be looking up at a tied game all night. It gives you an opportunity to play a little more aggressive[ly]. Not relaxed, just be a little bit more creative. That was good for us.”


The Caps have two more tune-up tilts before Tuesday’s season opener against the Blackhawks in Chicago.


Man Down – A night after losing the services of Viktor Stalberg because of an upper body injury, Nashville winger Patric Hornqvist was felled by a point shot from a teammate midway through the second period. Hornqvist hobbled off and went down the tunnel in the immediate aftermath of the incident but did return to the ice late in the middle frame. He did not take the ice at all in the third period and is assumed to be day-to-day.