You have to ask yourself if the Nashville Predators will be running on fumes when they face the Washington Capitals on Friday night to continue their five-game road trip.
The Predators got roasted for 67 shots on goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, but Juuse Saros came to the rescue in epic fashion by making 64 saves to secure the two points in the standings.
It was the third-highest single game total for a goaltender in NHL history, and second-most in a non-overtime game. Saros also got selected to his second career NHL All-Star game on the same day.
This has to mean Kevin Lankinen is in net tonight against the Capitals, right? Gosh, let’s hope so. I think Juice earned himself a nice weekend off to relax and catch some Netflix.
Here’s my three keys to victory over the Washington Capitals, who have won seven of their last nine games and hold the Eastern Conference’s first wildcard spot.
1. Better Puck Possession
A big issue that led to the Hurricanes having a firing range on Saros was the Predators weren’t holding onto the puck. They were turning the puck over, spending too much time defending and having to just clear the puck to get a line change.
When the Predators did go on the rush, they had trouble finding a long possession game.
The Predators will need to cycle the puck better and win those loose puck battles to grab possession in the attacking zone. Although maybe not as offensively elite, the Capitals can still burn you with quick strikes.
The Capitals are tenth in the NHL in goals per game but rank right in the middle on the power play.
This is a game where the Predators have to gut check themselves. They know how fortunate they were in Carolina and on almost every other occasion, that’s going to end in a blowout loss to the tune of giving up seven or eight goals.
Better defensive structure in the neutral zone will be critical. And, of course, winning those puck battles. That may be a tall order on the back end of a back-to-back after the Predators left it all out there on Thursday.
2. Keep Feasting on Special Teams
The Predators have been showing promising progress both on the power play and the penalty kill. As bad as it was against the Hurricanes in giving up shots, they managed to hold them to just one power play goal on four attempts.
The penalty kill is up to 15th in the NHL while still being in the top-10 in most penalty minutes per 60 minutes. They were the most-penalized team in 2021-22.
For all of their gaffes, I’ll never accuse this Predators team of not leaving it all out there. They emptied the gas tank against the Canes to try to limit the buzzsaw.
Mark Jankowski had four blocks to lead the team, while Tanner Jeannot, Alexandre Carrier and Ryan McDonagh each had three.
The power play is also looking much more structured and moving the puck more effectively. They have looked like they’re back on the same page with each other, leaving me to no longer feel like it’s a complete liability.
The Predators have power play goals in seven of their last eight games, going 5-1-2 in those games. The Capitals have a top-ten penalty kill, so it will be a difficult task at hand.
3. Keep Scoring First
The Predators look like a different team when they score first, and they pull that off more often than you may realize. They have scored first in six of their last eight games.
Although the Predators kept finding the tying goal against the Hurricanes on Thursday night, usually this team plays much better with an early lead. They can play their defensive style when teams have to press more and make mistakes.
The Predators have an equal goal differential of 32-32 in first periods this season. With them trending forward since Christmas and climbing back up the standings, a big reason is they’re opening games in a sharper fashion.
This is going to be critical against the Capitals. It’s a team that can pounce on a tired team early and make this game effectively over by the first intermission. Weather the storm in the first period, then settle into your game.
The Capitals are also on a back-to-back, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-2 on Thursday after giving up the first goal and being tied 2-2 in the second period. Then they erupted with power play goals from Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie.
Final Score Prediction
A game like this makes me cautious to have too much optimism. I expect the Predators to possibly come out lethargic and spot the Capitals a couple goals. I’m never worried about this team giving up, but keeping the score within one goal going into the third period will be vital.
The Predators lost both meetings with the Capitals last season by scores of 4-1 and 5-3. Ovechkin had two goals and an assist. Saros started both games making 56 saves on 63 shots.
Lankinen has never started against the Washington Capitals.
The Nashville Predators all-time are 17-12-4 against the Capitals, and also have one tie. The scoring margin in 34 meetings is wildly close at 106-102 favoring the Predators.
Unfortunately, I’m going to think with my head here and not my heart; I’ve got the Capitals winning 3-1 against a Nashville Predators team that will struggle to find a lot of shots on goal and scoring chances.