The Predators entered the tilt with an 8-0-2 record in their last 10 games, while the Capitals were 7-1-2.
Two red hot teams going at it. Something- or some team- had to give.
It would be the Capitals.
This was the first of two meetings this season between the teams, and it marked the first visit to the Bridge by Barry Trotz as the Head Coach of an opponent of the Predators. Trotz was the Head Coach of the Predators since their inception through the end of last season.
The game was a back and forth physical affair that saw the Predators jump out to a 2-0 lead. Seth Jones beat Caps netminder Braden Holtby with a wrist shot to the glove side in the first period.
James Neal made it 2-0 early in the second period when Victor Bartley sent a shot toward the net from the boards. The puck deflected off Mike Fisher to James Neal, who was alone at the side of the net. Neal slammed home the puck into the open net for his 14th goal of the season.
The Capitals are a talented team, and they were not going away. Alex Ovechkin notched two goals in the second period to tie the game, and both goals came on incredible shots that were nearly identical. His first was a snipe from the right side that squeezed into the top corner short side. His second was from the same spot on the power play, and after 40 minutes, the game was tied at 2.
The Capitals took their first lead of the game in the third period when Marcus Johansson scored on the power play 2:38 into the third period. Johansson was able to muscle in close and no Predator moved him out of the crease, and he had three attempts before he was able to poke the puck past Carter Hutton to make it 3-2.
With the clock winding down and the Caps playing a physical style that was disrupting the flow of the Predators, things didn't look good.
This is a different Predator team, though, and they took over the last five minutes of the game.
With the Predators on the power play, Mattias Ekholm blasted a puck past Holtby to tie the game with 4:29 remaining.
James Neal stripped the puck from Matt Niskanen in the offensive zone and walked in on Holtby. His fake got Holtby to open up and Neal slid the puck between his pads for the game winner.
- A very touching tribute to Barry Trotz by the team. Trotzy built the foundation for the success of the Predators, and he was instrumental in developing Nashville into a hockey market. The crowd responded with a 90 second standing ovation that was so loud it was difficult to hear the audio of the tribute. Barry Trotz is a good hockey coach and an even better person, and the sellout crowd showed their appreciation to a fine man.
- With Ryan Ellis injured, Mattias Ekholm is seeing some time on the power play, and he is showing that he can perform very capably on that unit. He is calm handling the puck and has a heavy shot. That shot was on display with his goal on the powr play in the third. Holtby was unscreened but Matty Ek placed the shot perfectly and with tremendous velocity for the score. Ekholm is playing with confidence and taking on some bigger minutes with Ellis out of the line up and he is performing very capably.
- Speaking of the power play, the Predators were 1 for 4 tonight, and I am certainly not a coach, but I don't understand the lack of a net front presence. The power play operates with five players moving (good) but usually no one in front of the net (bad). Giving the opposing goalie a clean look at the shot doesn't seem like it is optimal.
- Carter Hutton played an outstanding game. I do not fault him for any of the three goals that he gave up. Two were absolutely perfect shots that were rockets from Ovechkin. the Johansson goal was certainly not his fault as Johansson had 4 whacks at the puck before he was able to get it past Huts. On that play, Anton Volchenkov failed to move Johansson out of the front of the net. When your netminder makes 3 stops in close, you would hope he would get some help from the defenders in front of him. he did not and the result was a go ahead goal by the Caps forward. Hutton was solid, tracked the puck well, and made some very good saves. He faced 34 shots tonight, stopping 31.
- Braden Holtby made some outstanding stops, including one in the third period on Colin Wilson who was wide open in the slot. Holtby's start tonight was his 21st consecutive start.
- The Predators were excellent in the face off circle tonight, winning 45 of 68.
- Winning games on your home ice is critical. The Predators are a league best 18-2-1 at the Bridge. Kudos to the fans for the energy they bring to the rink every game. It bolsters the Preds and is intimidating to the opponent.
- The Predators are 30-9-4, and with the loss by Chicago tonight, have a 6 point lead (64 points vs. 58 points) over the Blackhawks. They have a 2 point lead over the Ducks with a game in hand.
The Capitals are talented, big, and physical. The Predators refused to relent when that talented team took the lead in the third and kept fighting for the win.
That effort will be necessary in these next two road games.
My three stars:
1. James Neal
2. Alexander Ovechkin
3. Carter Hutton