Saturday, October 16, 2010

Preview: Capitals @ Predators

Washington Capitals @ Nashville Predators

Washington: 3-1-0, 6 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 4-3-7
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Probable starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov (season debut; 19-4-7, 2.52, .911 career)
Player to watch: C Nicklas Backstrom

Nashville: 3-0-0, 6 points
Leading scorer: Steve Sullivan (4-1-5)
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.5%
Probable starting goalie: Anders Lindback (2-0-0, 2.19, .925)
Player to watch: W Steve Sullivan

Both the Preds and Caps are on 3-game winning streaks. Both lost their starting goalies early in the season (or preseason). Both are operating a hot special teams unit that traditionally runs cold, and a cold special teams unit that traditionally runs hot. They're almost even in tied Fenwick% too.

In my mind, there are several storylines running here:

1) Special teams. The Predators' PP is hot, the Caps' PK is hot. The Predators' PK is cold, the Caps' PK is cold. Something's gotta give. My money is on the PPs, because of their good puck movement. And the fact that Varlamov, a notoriously poor PK goalie thus far, may be starting.

2) Shea Weber and Ryan Suter vs Alex Ovechkin. How will Ovechkin get back at Weber, the guy who slashed his wrist in the preseason? Can he get through David Legwand and then both Suter and Weber, the three guys you can expect to see shadowing Ovechkin's line? We'll see.

3) The Washington Backstroms. If Neuvirth isn't starting, then this really is Backstrom's team to lead. He's been the best Cap so far this season. He's been a top penalty killer and top power play man (maybe the latter isn't such a good thing, considering the state of the Caps' PP at the moment). He's been the only top-nine forward on the Caps who seems like he's going and going and not zoning out for long stretches of games, Ovechkin's 7 points notwithstanding. For the Capitals to get through the tough Nashville D, Backstrom is likely going to have to come up big.

4) Can John Carlson ramp it up? Carlson's performances recently haven't exactly been excellent. He'll need to ramp it up, especially since the Caps may be without both Mike Green and Tom Poti. Yikes.

All indications thus far are that Backstrom will come through with strong play, and Alex Ovechkin will produce. As long as the Caps' defense (lookin' at you, messers. Erskine, Sloan, and Hershey call-up) and goaltending hold up, they should win. With Varlamov in net, that's certainly a possibility. But Varlamov has a tendency to start slow when coming back from injury, and the Predators have great forward depth, if not top-end talent, to get good scorers against the Caps' weaker players. Predators 5, Capitals 3.

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