Caps Open Road Tour in Music City
Monday, 11.14.2011 / 5:32 PM
Mike Vogel - WashingtonCaps.com Senior WriterNovember 15 vs. Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena
1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network
Pre-Cap podcast at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 2 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (10-4-1)
Nashville Predators (8-5-3)
Washington departs on a six-day, three-game road trip this week with the first stop being in Nashville on Tuesday night. The Caps take on the Predators in the first of two meetings between the two clubs this season. Washington hosts Nashville at Verizon Center on Dec. 20.
The Caps opened up a busy stretch of hockey in which they’ll play nine games in 16 nights with a split of a weekend home-and-home set with the New Jersey Devils. The Caps took the opener in New Jersey on Friday but squandered a 2-0 lead on their way to a 3-2 shootout loss on Saturday at Verizon Center.
Washington is 4-3 on the road thus far this season, but all of those victories have come against Eastern Conference clubs. The Caps are 0-2 against Western foes on the road.
After starting the season on a 7-0 spree, the Caps are a decidedly more pedestrian 3-4-1 in their last eight games. The Capitals still hold a two-point lead over Florida and a three-point advantage over Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division standings.
Caps defenseman Mike Green
returned to the lineup after a six-game absence (lower body injury) for Friday’s game in New Jersey, but his return to health and the lineup was short-lived. Green sustained another lower body injury late in the first period of Friday’s game and sat out Saturday’s contest.
Defenseman John Erskine
(undisclosed injury) also missed Saturday’s game and veteran blueliner Roman Hamrlik
left that contest in the second period after absorbing a crosscheck from one of the Devils’ skaters. Both Erskine and Hamrlik are expected to play in Nashville on Tuesday, but Green will stay in Washington to receive treatment for his ailment.
“He’s not making the trip,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau when asked about Green’s status. “He’s day-to-day. We’re hoping that he joins us on the trip. But right now he’s going to stay here and get treatments.
“It happened Friday. I’m hoping he’s back within the week, playing.”
Washington went 1-3-1 in its first five visits to Music City, but the Caps have had more success in Nashville of late. The Caps have won each of their last three road contests with the Predators, but two wins came by a single goal and the other was a two-goal win that included a late empty-netter.
The Capitals are seventh in the league with a 21% power play success rate. Washington has climbed to 16th in the NHL with a penalty kill success rate of 82.5%. The Caps have killed off 20 of 21 (95.3%) opposing power plays over the last five games.
Although the Predators have played well on the road – going 6-3-1 in their first 10 road games – they’ve won just two of their first six home contests (2-2-2) this season.
Tuesday’s game against the Capitals is the second game of a five-game homestand for the Predators that is book-ended by a pair of five game road-trips on each side. Nashville went 3-1-1 on the road trip that preceded its current homestand.
The Predators opened up the current homestand with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Nashville celebrated the 1000th game of the club’s history on Saturday, bringing back several members of the expansion 1998-99 club to help share in the festivities.
Remarkably, the Predators have been led by the same general manager (ex-Caps GM David Poile) and bench boss (Barry Trotz) throughout the entirety of their history. Given the often short shelf lives of both of those positions around the NHL in the modern era, it’s a truly noteworthy achievement.
Nashville center David Legwand has also been with the franchise since day one; he was the club’s first-ever draft choice (first round, second overall in 1998) and played in one game during the team’s maiden season.
Tied for the team’s scoring lead this season with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in as many games, Legwand has missed the last two Nashville contests with an upper body injury. Trotz has also ruled him out of Tuesday’s tilt with the Capitals.
Rookie center Craig Smith has made a significant splash early in his freshman season. He is tied for the team lead in scoring with Legwand, and his 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) are also tied for the league lead among all NHL rookies. Smith has three power play goals in the early going to lead all NHL freshmen and the Predators as well.
Smith was Nashville’s fourth-round choice (98th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. A native of Madison, Wisc., Smith spent two seasons skating for the University of Wisconsin Badgers prior to turning pro this season.
The Predators swept a pair of pre-season contests with the Caps.
“Now that it’s regular season and they’ve got their whole team playing,” says Caps winger Troy Brouwer
of the Predators, “they’ve got their system established. They’re a real good hockey team, a very disciplined hockey team as far as systems go and playing together. And they’ve got a great goaltender and some good [defensemen]. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. [We’re going to have to] get pucks low, make sure we’re getting in on their defense and making it tough for them.”
Noted for their speed and their diligent work ethic, the Trotz-coached Predators have never been an easy team to play against.
“It’s like going from the frying pan into the fire,” says Boudreau of going from facing New Jersey to facing Nashville. “They’re both very tough defensive teams with great goaltending. We played Nashville twice in the preseason and we didn’t solve them.
“We thought New Jersey was extremely tough. It wasn’t the neutral zone; their defensive zone coverage was extremely good. We expect with [Nashville defensemen Shea] Weber and [Ryan] Suter and the cast following them that they’re going to be equally as tough [Tuesday].”
The Predators have clicked on 15.2% of their power play opportunities thus far this season, the 19th best rate in the league. Nashville is fifth in the circuit with an 88.4% penalty kill success rate in 2011-12.