NBC Sports Network is in town as the Washington Capitals meet the Nashville Predators in the featured game of the night. A matchup of two of the hottest teams in the NHL make this a can’t-miss game, featuring rejuvenated offenses and elite goaltenders.
The Washington Capitals
After facing early season struggles, the Caps have won six of their last eight games dating back to Oct. 28.
Much of their turnaround can be attributed to Braden Holtby, who is 6-0 with a 1.79 goals allowed average and .944 save percentage over his last six starts. In his previous two outings, Holtby held the Penguins and Oilers to one goal apiece. He’s back to his normal self – in the race once again for the Vezina trophy.
Offensively, we know about Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. But Washington lacks depth throughout their forward lines. The departures of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, who combined for 106 points last season, have left openings on the wings, and an injury to Andre Burakovsky doesn’t help the cause. As a result, two relative unknowns – Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson – are playing on the first and second lines, respectively.
Those guys have been solid, as has Lars Eller who is on his way to career year currently with 11 points.
The defensive unit is also down a man, with Matt Niskanen dealing with a hand injury. He is expected to travel with the team to Nashville, though. In his absence, John Carlson has logged heavy minutes (27:20 average TOI) and is fourth on the team in points with 13.
When peeking at advanced metrics, the Capitals grade out as one of the worst possession teams in the league at 5-on-5 with a 47.37 Corsi For Percentage. In terms of putting shots on goal, they’re even worse – a 46.34 shots for percentage - but a team featuring Ovechkin can still score, and they’ve outscored opponents 35-32 at even strength in 2017.
The Nashville Predators
Last time out, we witnessed the debut of Kyle Turris in gold, and the newcomer did not disappoint. Turris scored one of five goals against Pittsburgh, anchoring the second line between Kevin Fiala and Craig Smith. There’s reason to believe this group and go off once again tonight.
If Peter Laviolette chooses to matchup lines like he did against Pittsburgh (NSH1 vs. PIT2, NSH2 vs. PIT1), it means Fiala-Turris-Smith will draw the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-DSP trio. They aren’t exactly a defensive-oriented line.
When Ovechkin and Kuznetsov are on the ice together at 5-on-5, which is almost always at 229:49 TOI, they have a 44.06 Corsi For percentage. With Kuz and Smith-Pelley together, it’s 41.53%. Average that out and we can determine this line owns a 42.79%.
Smith, in particular, was extremely effective against the Penguins, finishing with a 62.99 Expected Goals For Percentage at 5-on-5. If Niskansen remains out for Washington, it’s another prime night for the Preds to use their speed and exploit their opponent in the offensive zone.
Reasons to Watch
- Kevin Fiala will break his scoring drought very, very soon. By that, I mean it’s going to happen tonight.
- All signs point to Nick Bonino returning to the lineup after skating with the fourth liners Monday morning. It will be exactly one month since he last suited up.
- Calle Jarnkrok owns five points in five games this month. He’s added another wrinkle to the offense on the third line.
- Three goals in four nights for P.K. Subban.
- Another warm welcome for Barry Trotz.
Watch and Listen
No Fox Sports Tennessee broadcast tonight. Tune in to NBCSN at 7 p.m., to watch the game, or flip your radio dial to 102.5 The Game.