Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz admitted he wasn’t sure whether he would cheer for the NHL-best Nashville Predators once his former club started strong.
Trotz won’t be rooting for them Friday night in his return to Nashville, and he’ll catch a major break since he won’t have to face injured goaltender Pekka Rinne.
The popular Trotz will receive a huge ovation after he was let go April 14 by Nashville after 15 seasons as the first coach in franchise history. The two-time Jack Adams finalist was offered a job in the Predators’ hockey operations department, but said he wanted to continue to coach elsewhere.
"I’m excited to get back home and see some friends and get to see my family a little bit," Trotz said. "I’m excited. It’s good to go back home."
Trotz, hired by Washington (24-11-8) on May 26, coached 1,196 games with Nashville and was second only to Gregg Popovich of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs for longest active coaching tenure in the four major sports before his dismissal.
Nashville (29-9-4) went to the playoffs seven times under Trotz, though it missed out the last two seasons. The Predators are in the midst of an amazing turnaround under new coach Peter Laviolette.
"I thought at first they got off to such a good start, got Pekka going, got everybody going that I might be a little jealous, but I must have matured, I’m not jealous at all," Trotz said. "I’m actually cheering for them."
Trotz’s final Nashville season was hampered when he lost two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Rinne for 51 games to an E. coli infection in his surgically repaired left hip.
Now Laviolette faces his biggest challenge of the season with Thursday’s news that Rinne will miss three to five weeks with a sprained knee suffered in a collision in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over Vancouver. Rinne is among the league’s best with a 1.96 goals-against average.
Carter Hutton, 0-3-2 with a 2.60 GAA, will start Friday.
”I expect Carter to come in here and play well for us,” Laviolette said. ”I expect our guys to go out tomorrow night on the ice and play an aggressive game. But we got to go out and do that. Everybody’s got to go out and do their job.”
Hutton could have a rude awakening against Alex Ovechkin, who averages a league-high 4.7 shots. Ovechkin has six goals and three assists in his last eight games, though he came up empty in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Philadelphia.
Braden Holtby made 21 saves in his 20th straight start for his fourth shutout.
Holtby leads the NHL in victories since Dec. 4, going 14-1-4 with a 1.88 GAA. Rinne is right behind him with 13 wins in that span.
Hutton and Holtby have each faced and beaten Friday’s opposition once. This will be Hutton’s first home start since he made 23 saves in a 4-3 shootout win over the Capitals on March 30.
Washington is a league-best 14-2-4 since the start of December, while Nashville seeks its first five-game win streak since Jan. 19-31, 2012. The Predators are unbeaten in regulation in their last nine (7-0-2) and have win six in a row at home to improve to 17-2-1 there.
Predators center Colin Wilson has eight points in a four-game run and 17 in his last 11 contests. Filip Forsberg leads all rookies with a team-high 39 points.