February 25 vs. Edmonton Oilers at Bridgestone Arena
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 41-12-7
Nashville Predators 33-20-8
The Capitals start a two-game road trip and finish off their 12th set of back-to-back games this season with a late Saturday afternoon contest against the Predators in Nashville. The game is the first of two meetings between Washington and Nashville this season; the Preds will visit Verizon Center on March 16.
Washington comes into Saturday's contest on the heels of an impressive 2-1 home ice victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night. The victory was the Caps' 13th straight on home ice, matching a franchise standard established in 2009-10.
Moreover, the Caps achieved Friday's triumph with four regulars missing from the lineup. For the first time this season, Washington was forced to play without two top six defenders on the same night as both Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik missed Friday's game because of lower body injuries sustained in Wednesday's win over the Flyers in Philadelphia.
The Caps were also without first line right wing T.J. Oshie, who sustained an upper body injury against the Flyers, and third line right wing Andre Burakovsky, who missed his fifth straight game as the result of a hand injury suffered on Feb. 9 against Detroit. Washington entered Friday's game with a total of just 24 man-games lost to injury this season, fewest in the NHL.
Despite the somewhat sudden lineup changes, the Caps managed to take down a talented Edmonton team led by Connor McDavid, the 20-year-old sophomore who leads the league in scoring. Washington center Evgeny Kuznetsov and his linemates drew the unenviable task of neutralizing McDavid, and they did so nicely. The gifted pivot picked up a secondary assist on the lone Edmonton goal, a Leon Draisaitl tally that came in the first minute of the second period. The Oilers also benefited from a fortuitous bounce on that Draisaitl marker.
"Every game should be hard that you play in, and every game is hard," says Justin Williams, whose 19th goal of the season proved to be the game-winner for the Capitals in Friday's win over the Oilers. "That was a good team that we played against, that we shut down except for a bad break on their goal. It was a big win. It was a good win."
McDavid is one of the league's swiftest skaters, and that's the main reason Caps coach Barry Trotz opted to deploy Kuznetsov and linemates Williams and Marcus Johansson against him.
"Speed against speed," says Trotz. "I just felt it was a good challenge. Kuzy is a great skater, and he has been playing really well. I thought it would be a real good challenge for him, and he responded really well. He was fantastic."
Kuznetsov appeared to have the puck on the string for most of the night. He and his linemates frequently made McDavid and company chase them around the Edmonton zone and making them play defense.
"I think we had some fun for sure," says Kuznetsov. "Even though they lost, it was a good game by both teams."
The Capitals have now won nine straight games against Western Conference opponents, and they're 14-2-0 against the opposite conference on the season.
"It's a really short turnaround for us obviously in Nashville," says Trotz, who coached the Preds for the first 16 seasons of their NHL existence. "[The Predators] are sitting there waiting. They're trying to get into the playoffs - they're in that last wild card [spot] - and they've got a good hockey team.
"I know this better than anybody. Saturday night in Nashville, it's The Coliseum. And they're going to come after us. They want the win obviously, but it's a little bit of a measuring stick for them. We've been weighed and measured a few times this year, and that's okay. It makes us better. It's a good challenge for our guys and I know they're up for it. I think they'll respond."
Nashville scuffled its way through the first half of the season; the Preds were just 17-16-7 at the 40-game mark. Although they haven't won more than three consecutive games at any point this season, the Predators have had a pair of three-game winning streaks since the turn of the calendar and are a more respectable 12-6-3 in their last 21 contests.
The Predators' recent run has lifted them into the top eight of the Western Conference.
Coming into Saturday's game against the Caps, the Predators have pulled at least a point in three straight games (2-0-1). Saturday's game starts the back side of a four-game homestand; the Preds fell to the Calgary Flames in a 6-5 overtime affair on Tuesday before downing the Colorado Avalanche by a 4-2 score on Thursday.
Former Caps prospect Filip Forsberg notched hat tricks in both of those games, becoming the first player in Nashville's franchise history to achieve that feat. Forsberg is also the first NHL player to author hat tricks in consecutive games in more than seven years, since Vancouver's Alex Burrows "turned the tricks" on Jan. 5-7, 2010.