The immovable object takes on the unstoppable force tonight at Bridgestone Arena, as the Washington Capitals bring their stingy defense to town to face the high-octane Nashville Predators.
Hey, quit laughing - the Caps are only allowing 2.25 goals a game with a perfect penalty kill, while Nashville has scored 11 times in 3 games, and is 4/13 on the power play. Okay, so its only been 4 and 3 games, respectively, but it's an interesting role reversal from last year and one that'll bear watching tonight. I halfway expect both teams to revert to their normal habits tonight, with the Capitals boasting all the offensive talent and Nashville the defensive stars.
At any rate, follow after the jump for more.
Thus far, its been a season of surprises for the Nashville Predators. They power play is clicking, and all four lines are scoring.
"Everyone knows they have to make a contribution", alternate captain Steve Sullivan said on Thursday night, and so far, that's been the case. Who knows how long they can keep up this pace, but something just feels different about this year's team. It's usually not a good idea to go on feelings, but whether it be the effort of Joel Ward, the heart of Steve Sullivan, or the lead-by-example Shea Weber, I recommend not counting this team out. Ever.
Despite the 3 wins and zero losses, it hasn't quite been all rainbows and puppies - the penalty kill is a clear problem, and high-priced acquisition Matthew Lombardi has looked very poor in two games. Just as there's plenty of time for the good things to go wrong, though, there's plenty of time for the team to fix what ails them.
UPDATE (10:38 AM CST): Per Josh Cooper, the Giant will start tonight. No, we don't have a goalie controversy, but Peks did say he was 100%. I can only assume that they're just playing it safe this early in the season. Rinne and Mark Dekanich both practiced, so it remains to be seen who will play behind the Giant.
#39 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
May 03, 1988
|2010 - Anders Lindback||2
Here's how Nashville lined up in their victory over St. Louis. Matthew Lombardi is questionable with an upper-body injury, while Martin Erat is still on injured reserve with back spasms.
As we mentioned in the preseason (when Nashville and Washington split a home and home set), this year represents one of great importance for the Capitals. On paper, there are very few weaknesses. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green make up what is easily the best offensive quartet in hockey, but head coach Bruce Boudreau has never quite been able to make things click on the playoff level (sound familiar?).
The games aren't played on paper, however, which means the Caps have plenty of wrinkles left to iron out. They have converted winger Tomas Fleischmann as their second pivot, and a mishmash of blue-chip prospects, washed up veterans and AHL stars in their depth defense spots. While I'm temporarily pegging the Capitals to emerge out of the East this season, there's just as good a chance they fall flat.
UPDATE: Michal Neuvirth was the first goalie off the ice for the Caps.
#30 / Goalie / Washington Capitals
Mar 23, 1988
|2010 - Michal Neuvirth||3||183||2||1||8||2.62||95||87||.916||0|
While the Capitals have played good defense in their first four games, that was with Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green and veteran Tom Poti. Green has been ruled out of tonight's game, as has Poti and Matt Bradley. That leaves the Capitals with Real American Hero John Carlson, last year's +/- leader Jeff Schultz...and not much else. Brian Fahey was called up from Hershey as a replacement for Poti.
Of course, that all may be a moot point considering the Capitals can outscore any team in the league.
While it may be painfully obvious, its equally important. Alex Ovechkin is, bar none, hockey's most lethal offensive weapon. Shea Weber, thankfully for Nashville, is one of hockey's premier defensemen on both ends of the ice. On a good night, there isn't a defenseman who can stop Ovechkin - its more about limiting the damage.
Kevin Klein on Ovi would be a world-class disaster, and Ryan Suter isn't quite physical enough to deal with him. Weber, then, needs to play Ovechkin physically, without resorting to using his mean streak. While he's curbed it greatly in the last year or so, Shea can still take a stupid penalty or two every once in a while.
When a President's Trophy winning team comes to Music City, you can usually expect fireworks. The crowd will undoubtedly be rowdy and looking to will the team to another victory. Expect them to come out with their hair on fire, similar to the Anaheim and St. Louis games.
This particular ride will have to come to an end at some point, though. The Capitals are experts at the regular season, and I'm somewhat concerned with Rinne's first game back from injury. Washington 4, Nashville 3 (OT).