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Capitals vs. Predators Recap: Caps Win 5-3 in Penalty-Filled Affair

A Kuznetsov shorty wins it for the Caps, but Washington’s power play struggles continue.

NHL: DEC 29 Predators at Capitals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Capitals hockey is back, boys and girls and babes! After a nine day break, the Washington Capitals are back at 7th and F to face the Nashville Predators. This is the first of two meetings between these two teams, with the Caps scheduled to visit Nashville in April.

After the Caps made some roster moves because of changes in COVID protocol status this week, the lines for tonight got a bit of a shakeup:

With three of Washington’s usual defensemen in protocol, Michal Kempny and Alex Alexeyev slotted into the lineup tonight. Kempny, whose hair is just as luscious as ever, is playing his first NHL game since March 9, 2020 and Alexeyev is the seventh Capital to make his NHL debut this season. Also of note: the Capitals have all four of their regular centers in the lineup for the first time this season. That somehow feels against the rules...

Here’s Wednesday night’s Plus/Minus:

Plus: The Caps had the potential to come out of the gate poorly after the extended holiday break, but they came into the first period with guns blazing. They looked sharp and ready to play, and their three-goal first period is evidence of that.

Minus: The Capitals’ second period was as bad as their first period was good. They let Nashville drive the game completely, which was especially disappointing after they started the game so well. Giving up a 3-0 lead is always bad, folks.

And now, the wholesome energy of a rookie solo lap:

Twelve more notes on the game:

1. Lars Eller got the Capitals on the board 3:15 into the game after an absolutely stunning passing sequence. We could walk you through it, but words simply will not do it justice so just…here:

John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin recorded the assists on Eller’s lay-up goal, but it is a shame that Tom Wilson will not get a point for his beautiful pass that started the sequence

2. Michael McCarron pushed Garnet Hathaway into the net behind Juuse Saros and chaos ensued, resulting in a penalty for McCarron. With 12:16 left on the clock, the Caps got their first power play of the game and, for the first time this season, they got to ice their complete top power play unit. The Predators’ penalty kill came out on top of this special teams match-up, but the Caps did generate a few good chances. Was it great? No. But was it watchable? Yes, and that is sadly an improvement.

3. After an impressive save from Ilya Samsonov at one end of the ice, Nicklas Backstrom served up his patented saucer pass to John Carlson at the right circle. Backstrom drew four Nashville players to him, leaving Carlson open in Snipe City. 2-0 Washington with 6:46 left in the first.

4. Nic Dowd put the Caps up 3-0 just eight seconds shy of the McNugget Minute (you couldn’t have waited a little bit longer, Dowder?) after yet another excellent passing sequence from the Caps. Michal Kempny (!) got things started with an excellent breakout pass to Carl Hagelin, who fed the puck to Dowd as he was driving to the net.

This is Kempny’s first NHL game since before COVID, and it’s nice to see him get on the scoresheet so quickly.

5. 30 seconds after Dowd’s goal, the Caps and Preds got chippy again over by the Nashville bench. It was yet another strange set of penalty calls with Hathaway (hi-sticking), Alex Alexeyev (roughing), and Matt Benning (roughing) all going to the box, resulting in a Predators’ power play. Just as the power play expired early in the second period, Yakov Trenin got one past Ilya Samsonov to cut Washington’s lead to two. Trenin drove hard to the net and found a rebound to bat in, and it unfortunately counted as a 5v5 goal.

6. Tom Wilson and Mark Borowiecki got into it after Borowiecki took offense to a heavy hit from Wilson on Ryan Johansen. There wasn’t a single punch thrown, but the resulting penalties were as follows: five for fighting for Wilson and two for instigating, five for fighting, and a ten minute misconduct for Borowiecki. It seems as if the refs might be losing control of this one a bit.

Shortly after Washington’s power play expired, Nashville got another goal on the board. Eeli Tolvanen sent an excellent pass to Luke Kunin, who did not miss with his shot. That’s two goals for the Preds in less than six minutes, and a 3-2 game with more than half the clock to go.

7. 30 seconds after that, who else but Filip Forsberg tied things up with a weird deflection past Ilya Samsonov. The Capitals had a three-goal lead when the puck dropped for the second period, and it evaporated in 7:38. Yikes.

8. With seven minutes to go in the second, Dmitry Orlov and Ben Harpur took matching minors for roughing as the odd penalty calls in tonight’s game continued. Nothing came of that four-on-four but 95 seconds after Orlov and Harpur’s penalties expired, Matt Benning took his second roughing penalty on Garnet Hathaway of the evening. The chances are there for the Washington power play, but their execution has simply disappeared. Still 3-3 after 40 minutes of play.

9. The Capitals got their fifth power play opportunity of the night when Dante Fabbro took a delay of game penalty with 13:45 left in the third. The power play was once again goalless, bringing them to 0-5 on the night. Just after Fabbro’s penalty expired, Tom Wilson went to the box for a bit of a weak tripping call on Mikael Granlund. The Caps actually had a decent shorthanded chance on the Preds’ power play from Eller and Hathaway, but Juuse Saros was better. Wilson also had an excellent chance when he got a breakaway after he exited the box, but Saros was once again absolutely on it. Still tied at 3-3, with just under ten minutes to go.

10. Mikael Granlund was called for cross-checking on Evgeny Kuznetsov with 7:42 left. Will the sixth time be the charm? Juuse Saros said “Nope!” and absolutely robbed Kuznetsov with an excellent pad save.

Tom Wilson added an extra layer of “No way, José” when he was called for a tripping penalty with 34 seconds left on Granlund’s penalty. Well, initially it was Conor Sheary that got dinged for the trip, but the refs actually corrected their mistake and sent the correct guy to the box.

11. Shorthanded! Bird! Celly! Alert! Just as Nashville’s abbreviated power play began, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his second shorty of the season to give the Caps a 4-3 lead. He took control of the puck behind the net and decided to call his own number while using John Carlson as a screen on Saros. Fun fact: two shorthanded tallies ties Kuznetsov for the most in the league with eight other skaters.

12. With 2:20 to play, Saros headed to the bench to give Nashville the extra attacker. The Preds used their timeout to try and regroup, but it was Carl Hagelin who lit the lamp with an empty netter to ice the game for Washington. This is Hagelin’s second point of the night, and John Carlson recorded an assist on the tally to give him a four-point night.

This 5-3 win ends Saros’ perfect record against the Capitals, and gives the Caps their first win over the Preds in what feels like 8,000 years.

Up next on the schedule for the Caps: a trip to Motor City to face the Red Wings at 7:30pm ET on Friday.