When the Caps take to the ice tonight in Nashville, they'll be facing a team fighting for its proverbial playoff life for the fourth time in five games (sorry, Leafs - you're cooked). In fact, each of those four teams - Florida, Carolina, Pittsburgh and Nashville - is currently within a single point of eighth place in its respective conference and on the rise.
In the first three of those match-ups, the results have been somewhat predictable - the hungrier team has beaten the team with less to lose, and done so by a combined total score of 15-7 - and it gets no easier for the Caps tonight, as they face a Preds team that comes into the game every bit as hungry and hot as the trio of desperate squads D.C. has lost to in the past ten days, having just had a six-game winning streak (in which they scored 28 goals) snapped on Saturday in Philly.
For the Caps, Nashville is the last Western team on the schedule, which is a good thing, given the team's 7-10-0 record against the Conference. Then again, they are 4-2-0 against the Central Division, including a 4-3 shootout win over these same Predators back in late October (and who can forget the Caps' last visit to Nashville?).
But the Preds are a tough out at home (21-11-2), have been stingy defensively all season long (thanks to Pekka Rinne and a great group of mostly young blueliners) and, as mentioned above, have been scoring in bushels lately. Their penalty kill has been outstanding, and while their power play hasn't been over the course of the season, the Caps PK has allowed thirteen goals over the past eleven games, which must have Shea Weber licking his chops.
Without a doubt, the Caps will be tested tonight, and if they're not ready, they could get embarrassed (just ask Detroit). But if they come to play from the opening faceoff (and this is key - Nashville is 27-6-2 when scoring first and a League-best 15-0-1 when leading after one period; 6-23-2 when allowing the first goal), there's no reason they can't take another two points out of Music City.
After all, the Caps have Alexander Ovechkin and Nashville doesn't.