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Caps' Ward returns to Nashville

by David Kalan
CAPITALS (10-4-1) at PREDATORS (8-5-3)


Last 10: Washington 5-4-1; Nashville 6-2-2.

Season series: This is the first of two games this season between the Predators and Capitals. Washington won their lone meeting last season, a 3-2 overtime victory at Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 16, 2010.

Big Story: Joel Ward spent hist first three full seasons in the NHL in Nashville, where he had a breakout postseason this spring tallying 13 points in 12 games for the Predators. Hot off that performance, ward signed a deal with the Caps, with whom he returns to Music City for the first time Tuesday since leaving the Preds.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Washington came out of the gate in historic fashion, and while the Capitals still are holding onto first place in the Southeast, they have stumbled just a bit of late. Suddenly they've won just one of their last four games, and blew a two-goal first-period lead to New Jersey, a team that ranks near the bottom of the League in offense, before falling in a shootout at the Verizon Center on Saturday night. The Caps still are holding the Lightning and the surprising Panthers at bay, and have the added benefit of having played fewer games, but things could start to get difficult if Washington doesn't get back to winning soon.

Tuesday marks the start of a brief three-game road trip for Washington, which will head to division-rival Winnipeg and then Toronto to wrap up the swing. If the Capitals can look for any help from the schedule to get them winning again, they should notice that long stretches on the road aren't on the horizon. The current three-game trip is the team's longest until it leaves home for another three-game trip in late January.

Predators: Saturday night was an exciting one for the Predators as they celebrated 1,000 games under the leadership of general manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz. Unfortunately the night didn't go as planned for Nashville as they lost in overtime to Montreal. The resulting loss leaves the Preds clinging to the eighth spot in the West as a result of a tiebreaker with Los Angeles. Divisionally, however, the picture is relatively rosy. Nashville is six points back of first-place Chicago, but the Predators have two games in hand and plenty of opportunities remaining to close the gap.

In fact, things are generally looking up for Nashville, which is playing the second game of a five-game homestand Tuesday night. The Preds have lost just once in regulation in their last eight games, and goalie Pekka Rinne, as always, is providing the stellar goaltending Nashville has grown accustomed to. The Finn, who recently signed a major extension, hasn't lost in regulation since Oct. 25.

Who's Hot: Nashville's Patric Hornqvist had a seven-game point streak snapped against Montreal Saturday, but with 11 points in that span it was no light-weight stretch. Expect his stick to stay hot. ... Jason Chimera could be heating up for Washington. The left wing scored in both ends of the Caps' home-and-home with New Jersey.

Injury Report: Teemu Laakso (cyst surgery) and David Legwand (upper-body injury) are both listed as questionable for the Preds. The Capitals should have John Erskine (shoulder) and Roman Hamrlik (upper-body injury) -- the two are listed as probable -- but Mike Green (lower-body injury) should miss his second game in a row after sitting out Saturday's loss to New Jersey.
Stat Pack: Nashville is a franchise noted for its lockdown defense, but this year the Preds me be straying from tradition. Rinne has faced more rubber than any other goalie this season, while the Predators are giving up an average of 32.6 shots per game, fourth most in the League.

Puck Drop: Despite their strong start, the Capitals may have some weakness on the road, where they are just 4-3-0 so far this season. Of course, Nashville, too, could be in for a struggle when it comes to the environs Tuesday. The Predators home mark right now is a pedestrian 2-2-2. One of the two teams will have to change its stripes.

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