That one didn't go well for Washington. It was a wild affair with a handful of lead changes, and the Caps carried a 4-2 advantage into the third period. After Nashville scored twice in a span of 70 seconds early in the third to tie it, T.J. Oshie restored the Caps' lead at 5-4 just past the midway point of the final frame. But the Preds struck for another quick pair late - two goals in 28 seconds - to hand Washington a 6-5 setback, its first regulation loss of the season.
Tonight, Washington carries a four-game winning streak into the game, and it will be seeking to snap a seven-game slide (0-6-1) against the Predators; they're the only team that Caps coach Todd Reirden has yet to defeat in his season and a half at the helm. The Caps' last win over the Preds was nearly four years ago, a 4-1 victory here in Washington on March 18, 2016. Daniel Winnik scored a pair of goals for the Caps in that one.
"It's finding different ways to end up on the wrong end of things," says Reirden of the Caps' struggles against the Preds. "It's certainly something we've looked at. Obviously, they've got a new coach, so we've been looking more heavily at that and some of their systems changes, because there definitely are some. But in terms of not having success against a team, I'm just happy that they're in the Western Conference.
Video: Reirden Pregame | January 29
"But we've got to focus on our game and try to continue to build our game. Like I said, they're playing a little bit differently, and they're still a really dangerous team with good goaltending and a really active defense, with a guy like [Roman] Josi, who is a big factor for their team. It will be a tough game against a team that definitely needs to gather points here, as they're making a late push for the playoffs."
Rhythm Kings - For whatever reason, Washington's schedule typically features more games on an every-other-day basis once the league's midseason break is in the rear view, and the Caps tend to thrive in those situations. Playing every other day - with either an off day or a practice day in between - has proven to be favorable for the Caps for a number of years now, and 21 of their final 32 regular season games will be played with one day's rest.
Since the outset of the 2014-15 season, the Capitals are 171-54-23 when playing on one day's rest, and that translates to a lusty .736 points percentage. It's by far the best mark in the league in that situation over that span; the Boston Bruins are a distant second with a .670 points percentage when playing on one day's rest.
"I don't really have a preference," says Caps defenseman Nick Jensen, "but I think as a whole as our team has guys who like being on the ice, and guys who like having fun on the ice. So I think they like getting into a rhythm of games in a row, but days in between each game. You get into a little bit more rhythm that way, and I think that's what our team thrives off of."
The Caps own the best overall record in the league since the start of 2014-15 as well, with a .675 overall points pct. But as you can see, their mark on one day's rest is well above their overall record over that span.
Video: Locker Room | January 29
"I think we've been a good team, and when positive things happen you kind of work with that momentum and you just try to keep your consistency at that level," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "As a player, routine is usually important -- if not crucial - to a lot of players, I would say. It's pretty easy to pick out what day is going to be what, and what days are our work days. The more you fall into that rhythm or what have you, I think guys benefit from knowing what to expect all the time, and there is not really any sort of reaction when things are the same."
Braden Holtby has obviously started the bulk of Washington's games since 2014-15, and he also seems to thrive on that every other day rhythm. Over the course of his career, his 2.34 GAA and .922 save pct. on one day's rest are easily his best marks of any of the various rest situations, and his 112-34-15 is also by far his best record in any situation.
It doesn't hurt Holtby or the Caps that the playoffs also typically tend to unfold on in an every-other-day fashion, so the rhythm from the stretch feels familiar once the postseason is underway.
"I think so," concurs Carlson. "I think the regular season is work time, and you're working on your game and trying to get it into the best form you can. But obviously, rest and all that is important down the stretch, and you want to be at your tip-top shape and all that to be able to tinker down the stretch a little bit with what works best for each individual. And then you kind of go with that for the rest of the year."
As Carlson notes, this is the time of the season that every player is looking to build and to ratchet up his own individual game. If each player is able to do that by even a small increment, the idea is that those small improvements will add up to a big overall plus for the collective group.
But as players are trying to hone their individual games, practice sessions are dwindling, too. Rest is also a weapon, and more of those days between games are off days in February and March than they would have been in October and November when everyone was fresher. The challenge now is to improve the overall game despite having fewer practices.
"I think it's all mental," says Oshie. "It's just focus going into games. Throughout the regular season, there are times when guys make some little mistakes that may or may not - or probably don't - cost you the game, but at times they can kind of just get brushed over like, 'Ah, it's just a mistake; no big deal.' When you get towards the end of the season here, those little mistakes can sometimes change a series. And so the mental focus just needs to be a lot stronger as a whole, and with less practice, that's really just about us preparing the right way and going out and doing it."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | January 29
In The Nets - Two nights after picking up his 19th win of the season with a 31-save performance against the Canadiens in Montreal, Holtby gets the net for Washington again on Wednesday against the Predators.
Holtby yielded two goals in Monday's win, snapping a seven-game run in which he gave up three or more goals, the longest such streak of his career. Tonight, Holtby takes aim on his 20th win of the season, and his first set of consecutive wins since Dec. 3-6.
Lifetime against the Predators, Holtby is 3-4-1 with a 4.19 GAA and an .866 save pct. He has yielded exactly six goals in each of his last three starts against Nashville.
For Nashville, we will be seeing Juuse Saros in net tonight. Veteran Pekka Rinne is still the Preds' primary goaltender, and the 37-year-old still has one season remaining on his contract after the current one. The Preds have gradually increased Saros' workload over the last few seasons, but both goaltenders have scuffled this season as the Preds have plummeted from fourth to 23rd in the league in goals against from '18-19 to this season.
Saros has been perfect against the Caps over the course of his NHL career, owning a 3-0-0 record with a 2.33 GAA and a .919 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Predators to look on Wednesday night in Washington when they get together for the second and final time this season:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
19-Jarnkrok, 92-Johansen, 51-Watson
9-Forsberg, 95-Duchene, 64-Granlund
23-Grimaldi, 13-Bonino, 33-Arvidsson
42-Blackwell, 8-Turris, 15-Smith
4-Ellis (upper body)