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Predators and Capitals seek to end slumps

by Corey Masisak

PREDATORS (13-13-3) at CAPITALS (14-12-2)


Last 10: Nashville 5-4-1; Washington 5-4-1

Season series: This is the first game between the teams since Dec. 20, 2011. The Washington Capitals have won six of the past seven; they don't see each other again until Washington comes to Bridgestone Arena on March 30.

Big story: Nashville Predators forward Martin Erat faces his former team, and the Capitals will try to remain in second place in a crowded Metropolitan Division below the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Predators will try to halt a four-game losing streak.

Team Scope:

Predators: This will be the 20th game Nashville has played since goalie Pekka Rinne was lost to hip surgery. They are 8-9-2 to this point, and though rookie Marek Mazanec has been a revelation in an emergency situation, the Predators are in danger of falling out of the Stanley Cup Playoff race.

Mazanec has played in 12 straight games but was pulled Thursday in a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Before that game, Mazanec had a save percentage of at least .909 in 10 of his 11 appearances and the Predators were treading water at 5-5-1. They started Friday seven points back of the eighth-place Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference.

Nashville could get captain Shea Weber back for this game. He's missed a week with an eye injury but skated Friday and made the trip.

"When he gets up in the morning and we can do our meetings and all, I'm sure I'll know at that point," coach Barry Trotz told the media after practice.

Capitals: When Washington defeated the St. Louis Blues 4-1 on Nov. 17, the Capitals moved into first place for one day in the Metropolitan Division. Not a lot has gone right since then. They are 2-4-1 and needed a late third-period goal to force extra time in each victory before winning one in overtime and one in a shootout.

Washington trails Pittsburgh by 11 points in the Metro; more importantly, some of the teams that have struggled for most of the season have caught up. The Capitals would be in sixth place in the division if not for those late third-period goals, and one more bad weekend could mean falling out of a playoff position. Two players, Erat and defenseman Dmitry Orlov, reportedly have requested a trade through their agents.

One problem for the Capitals has been injuries on the blue line that have forced coach Adam Oates to rely on unproven players.

"It makes it difficult, and I think that's one of the reasons we fight to get out of our own end at times," he told the media Friday after practice. "The game is not that easy. There's a drop-off sometimes. We're kind of trying to watch that all of the time with the kids."

Who's hot: Predators forward Mike Fisher has four goals in the past six games. … Washington forward Eric Fehr has six points in his past seven games, though he spent a full three weeks as a healthy scratch in the middle of that stretch.

Injury report: Nashville will be without rookie forward Filip Forsberg (upper body), who was a first-round pick by the Capitals in 2011 (No. 11) and was traded to the Predators for Erat and Michael Latta. … The Capitals are likely to be without forward Brooks Laich (groin) for the fourth straight game. Defensemen John Erskine (upper body) and Jack Hillen (leg), and goaltender Michal Neuvirth (lower body) are out.

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