Predators power past Capitals in early afternoon battle

December 31, 2018

Monday’s 12:30 p.m. puck drop allowed Washington Capitals fans with the day off to both catch a game and still party at night for New Year’s Eve. The Capitals had a lot to celebrate this calendar year, but Monday’s result wasn’t on that list.

The Nashville Predators came back to defeat the Capitals 6-3 on Monday afternoon at Capital One Arena after rallying from a 3-1 deficit.

Michal Kempny, Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson scored for Washington (24-11-3) and Braden Holtby made 28 saves as well as one assist.

But Nashville scored the final five goals of the game as Holtby struggled with some pucks around the crease. The Predators (23-15-2) snapped a six-game losing streak.

“Just the end of the year, you know?” said Alex Ovechkin, who hasn’t scored in six games following a 14-game point streak. “Tomorrow’s gonna be new day, a new year and new hockey.”

Coach Todd Reirden moved some players around during the game in a quest to solve the top line’s scoring rut. By day’s end, it went from Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie to Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson their go-to top line from last year’s Stanley Cup season.

“We’ll continue to re-watch the film and see what ways we can be better and what combinations will work best for us moving forward,” Reirden said. “Obviously those prior lines were very successful for us for a while there, and it’s the ebbs and flows of the season so we’ve got to look at making an adjustment there and continue to figure out what works best for us on a given night.”

The Capitals got off to a 2-0 lead in the first nine minutes of the game. Kempny got things rolling by catching a puck on a faceoff and wristing it in from deep behind the left circle.

After Washington killed off the game’s first penalty, Kuznetsov sent a pass across the zone and off the boards to John Carson. Carlson deked his way into the slot and found Vrana, who buried a close-range one-timer.

It was Vrana’s 12th goal of the season, second on the Capitals behind just Alex Ovechkin.

″(I’m) just focusing on the little things, focusing on doing the right things on the ice and creating chances and working on my finish,” Vrana said.

Nashville quickly cut off Washington’s growing momentum. The Predators’ fourth line scored its first of two goals when Zac Rinaldo centered the puck from a wide angle and Rocco Grimaldi popped it in behind Holtby.

In the second period, the Predators had a sluggish line change that left Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson open away from the benches. Holtby made a quick outlet pass to Smith-Pelly, and Stephenson scored on the two-on-none breakaway.

But again, Nashville answered with a quick goal, then added two more during the period to jump ahead 4-3. Ryan Johansen scored the tying goal off a rebound and fourth-line center Frederick Gaudreau executed a backhander to give the Predators the lead.

Ryan Ellis added Nashville’s fifth goal midway through the third with a 3-on-1. Then it was Viktor Arvidsson’s turn on a 5-on-3 power play. With 3:30 to play, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin both went to the bin the center for interference, the captain for roughing after the play.

Washington had plenty of O-zone time in the third period but managed only six shots on goal.

“I really liked our first (period) and we just weren’t able to sustain it for 60 minutes,” Reirden said. “I think that’s the key for me, is to keep that urgency and desperation level for 60 full minutes, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

The Predators won without one of their best players, former Capitals prospect Filip Forsberg, who is on injured reserve with a hand injury.

Meanwhile, it was the first game back for Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik’s first game back from long-term injured reserve after he missed about two months with a right knee injury that required surgery.

“Things felt fine,” Orpik said. “It was just kind of the timing stuff and kind of a couple silly mistakes I wish I didn’t make, but hopefully that’s gone. But overall, not bad.”

The Capitals embark on a three-game road trip in the first week of the new year, touring St. Louis, Dallas and Detroit.

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