Nashville Predators defenseman Marek Zidlicky scored a pair of first-period power-play goals to build a 2-0 lead over the Washington Capitals Wednesday night, then forward Steve Sullivan twice closed the door on Caps comeback attempts by scoring in the second and third and securing a 5-2 win at the MCI Center. Scott Hartnell collected a short-handed, empty-net goal with a half-second remaining, depositing one of only two Nashville goals not scored on the man advantage.
The victory improves Nashville's record to 18-4-3 on the season and 2-0 against Eastern Conference opponents. Nashville returns home to face the New York Rangers Thursday night, 7 p.m. at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Special teams were the key for the Predators Wednesday, as the power play and penalty kill units executed marvelously in the club's fourth consecutive win. Early on, Nashville found itself on the short end of a five-on-three power play, but two important saves by goaltender Chris Mason and good defensive work got the Predators through unscathed.
"That was a big turning point," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. "We killed that off, then we got a chance to go on the power play and we scored the two goals. It gave us a lot of confidence on our special teams and also took some confidence away on their special teams. And the way we scored our two power-play goals, we really threw it around and executed really quite well, and [Washington goaltender Olaf Kolzig] didn't have a chance on making a stop."
Indeed, Zidlicky's two tallies sprung from beautiful set-ups by Paul Kariya. On the first, at 14:16 of the opening period, Kariya and David Legwand cycled the puck in the right corner before Kariya passed it from the right half-boards to defenseman Kimmo Timonen at the point. Timonen sent a return feed to Kariya, who one-timed a pass to Zidlicky, cocked and waiting to unleash his own one-timer from the left face-off dot. Zidlicky's blast zipped into the left side of the net as Kolzig stood awkwardly in the middle of his crease.
The second, coming four and a half minutes later, looked identical to the first on the scoresheet and wasn't all that different on the ice. Kariya, holding the puck a few feet away from Kolzig, faked a couple of shots that lured the goaltender into dropping down to his knees with his leg pads extended. Kariya then turned and delivered a pass to Zidlicky in the slot at the left hashmarks, and the right-handed shooting defenseman again beat a suddenly ill-positioned Kolzig to a largely vacated net.
The Predators ran into penalty trouble in the second and third periods to give Washington life. The Capitals cut the lead to 2-1 at 2:30 of the middle period on a power-play goal by rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin. That would be the only blemish for Nashville's penalty killers, who--ranked third in the league entering the game--successfully suppressed nine of Washington's 10 chances with the man advantage.
"We took way too many penalties," Trotz said. "Ryan Suter had three minors and Zidlicky had a couple. Those can't happen. We've got to eliminate those and play five-on-five hockey."
Midway through the game, Sullivan started to look dominant on the ice. When Washington's Shaone Morrisonn mishandled a puck in the offensive zone while on the power play, Sullivan sprung to the puck, overtook the Caps defenseman in a race to the other end, and hit the post with a shot after being hassled from behind by Morrisonn. Sullivan was awarded a penalty shot on the play, but was thwarted by Kolzig on an attempt to put the puck between the goalie's legs.
"He's dynamic," Trotz said of Sullivan. "He doesn't get enough credit for what he does in terms of the penalty kill, because you always think of Steve as a pure offensive player. But he does such a good job disrupting things, and when he does he's got that great instinct to jump to the hole if there's a loose puck and he has such good speed he's able to draw penalties. Tonight he drew a penalty and got a penalty shot. In his own way, he contributes on both sides of the puck every night, especially on special teams."
Later, just as a Nashville power play expired with three minutes left in the second, Sullivan tried to thread a pass to Kariya down low but ended up banking it in off of the skate of Steve Eminger. That restored the Predators two-goal lead entering the third.
In the final period, when Washington threatened with a goal by Ben Clymer at the 8:40 mark, Sullivan again quelled the resistance and re-established a two-goal cushion with his second tally of the game. This one, scored at 12:06, came with the Predators on a five-on-three power play. Moments after Kariya was unable to bury a number of great chances near the right post, Sullivan found himself behind the net with the puck. He cleverly fired it at the back of Kolzig's right leg, caroming the puck into the net and giving the Predators a 4-2 lead.
"That's why they're elite players," Trotz said of Kariya and Sullivan, "because they have that instinct to sell a shot or look you off and pass it to someone else. That's something they do so well. We sort of give them a road map of what we want them to do on the power play--we saw some things that Washington did on the penalty kill that we thought we could take advantage of. We were able to do that on the first two."
The events surrounding a fight in the final minutes between Clymer and Predators defenseman Jamie Allison resulted in an extra minor penalty to Allison for roughing. With 1:03 left, Washington pulled Kolzig for an extra attacker that then gave the Caps a six-on-four manpower advantage. Still they were unable to get another one past Mason, and Hartnell sealed the game when he carried the puck up ice and fired a shot into the empty net in the final second of regulation.
Mason, who improved to 3-0-1, stopped 30 of 32 Washington shots while Kolzig turned away 29 of the 33 chances he faced. Nashville's power play, which entered the game in the middle of the NHL pack, went an impressive three-for-six and drove the game's momentum. The Predators also dominated the face-off circle, winning 63 percent of the night's draws. Centers Yanic Perreault and Jerred Smithson led the way in that department, winning nine of 10 and 10 of 14, respectively.
The Predators face their third consecutive Eastern Conference opponent Thursday night when they host the New York Rangers. Tickets are still available for the game and start at only $10. To reserve your seats, call (615) 770-PUCK, order online, or visit the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster location. The game will not be televised locally but will be broadcast on 104.5 FM The Zone.
Notes: Marek Zidlicky registered two goals and one assist Wednesday night, giving him 15 points (4 goals, 11 assists) in his last 11 games. It was also his third three-point game this season... After missing the Dec. 3 game against Philadelphia with the flu, defenseman Kimmo Timonen returned to the lineup Wednesday and posted two power-play assists... The Predators have scored at least one power-play goal in their last 11 games, extending the franchise record for consecutive games with a power play goal. They've tallied 19 times on the man advantage in that span... With their win over the Capitals, the Predators drew to within one point of the conference-leading Detroit Red Wings, who were idle Wednesday... Two Nashville players became the first to crack double-digits in the goal column this season: Steve Sullivan scored his 10th and team-leading 11th goals in Washington, and Scott Hartnell pocketed his 10th... Hartnell's short-handed goal was his second and Nashville's fourth overall this season... Seven of Hartnell's 10 goals this season have been scored in the third period... Defenseman Dan Hamhuis led Nashville skaters in ice time with 25:53, his second-highest total this season... The Predators are 9-2-2 when scoring first, and 8-1-2 when leading after one period... Nashville, which entered Wednesday's game as the second-most penalized team in the league (averaging 21.2 PIM per game), committed 13 penalties for 29 minutes against the Caps... The Predators wore their gold alternate jerseys against Washington and are now 5-1-0 when wearing them this season... Nashville is now 4-1-0 in the first of back-to-back games... Attendance at the MCI Center was 11,088.
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