Jan. 29 vs. Nashville Predators at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Nashville Predators 22-19-7
Washington Capitals 34-11-5
In between a pair of one-game trips to Canada to take on a pair of Atlantic Division foes this week, the Caps make a quick stop at home to host the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night. The Capitals carry a four-game winning streak into that contest.
On Monday night in Montreal, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin served his one-game NHL-mandated suspension for skipping the league's All-Star Game. Washington won without the league's hottest scorer, taking a 4-2 win over the Canadiens while Ovechkin watched approvingly from above.
Braden Holtby made 31 saves to claim his first win since Jan. 5, and Jakub Vrana continued to have the hot hands, scoring his second straight game-winner, extending his point streak to nine straight games, and netting his eighth goal in the last nine games.
Video: Caps 365 | January 28
Coming back to live action after a week away from the rink is always tough, and the Habs made it even tougher on the Caps in the final 40 minutes of Monday's game. Montreal is third in the league in percentage of total shots taken at 5-on-5, and the Canadiens showed themselves to be a strong possession team over the last two periods on Monday. But Washington weathered Montreal's push, its special teams outperformed those of the Habs, and the Caps came away with a couple of points and their fourth straight win.
"I wouldn't say it's a great thing to be pinned in your [defensive] zone when you're coming right out of breaks," says Caps defenseman Nick Jensen, who logged over 20 minutes for the first time in seven games in Monday's win. "You want to play as little as possible in the [defensive] zone, but especially after a break when your legs aren't there, you want to play in the [offensive] zone because it's a little bit easier.
"But if we do end up in the zone and we're able to get out of it, I think that's important, too. It kind of gets you back in the groove of things after you take seven days off, and if you're able to get back in the swing of things like that, that's a good sign."
It was a good sign for Holtby, too. Mired in the longest slump of his career, he was nicked for a goal against in the second minute of the game on the second shot he faced, but he was splendid throughout the night. Both goals against came on plays where the shooter got behind the defense and put himself in a 1-on-1 situation.
Once Washington had the lead, Holtby was determined not to give it up. His strong performance against Montreal earns him another night in the net on Wednesday against Nashville.
"Braden is going to play again [Wednesday]," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "I liked his game a lot [Monday]. I think he has definitely earned that opportunity after the last game. I want to get him right back in there.
"It was a response game for him after the break, and that was as good as maybe we've seen him in the third [period] this year; there were maybe a couple of other games where he has made a huge impact and that was one of them. I want to build on that third period and get him playing the way that we all know he can."
Video: Reirden | January 28
Reirden also announced that Ilya Samsonov will start Friday's road game against the Senators in Ottawa.
Expected to be among the top teams in the Western Conference as they have been for the last half decade, the Predators have been a disappointment thus far in 2019-20. As it hits town on Wednesday, Nashville occupies the bottom spot in the Central Division standings, and the Preds' inability to generate any real traction in the first half of the season ended up costing coach Peter Laviolette his job.
The Preds replaced Laviolette with John Hynes, who started the season as the bench boss of the New Jersey Devils. The Devils parted ways with Hynes in early December, and he was unemployed for just over a month. Nashville moved on from Laviolette just after the turn of the calendar, and it is 3-4-0 since Hynes took over the reins.
Nashville still has 16 players remaining on its roster from the 2017-18 team that racked up a franchise best 117 points and claimed the first Presidents' Trophy in franchise history. But this year's model managed a modest four-game winning streak from Oct. 22-29, outscoring the opposition by a combined 16-3 in the process. The Predators were 8-3-1 at that early juncture of the campaign, and that has turned out to be the team's high-water mark of 2019-20. They haven't been able to manage more than two consecutive wins since.
Keeping the puck out of their net has been problematic for the Preds this season. After finishing fourth in the league with an average of 2.59 goals against per game in 2018-19, Nashville ranks 23rd in that department this season, yielding 3.25 tallies per tilt.
Most recently, the Preds absorbed a 5-2 loss to Toronto on Monday night in Music City, as they won only one game on an three-game homestand. Nashville is 3-1-1 in its last five road games.