Capitals-Predators Preview

The Washington Capitals remain just outside the playoff picture after failing to take advantage of a pair of home games.

The Capitals will now have to try to make progress in a competitive Eastern Conference race during a road-heavy stretch that begins Sunday night against the Nashville Predators.

Washington (34-28-12) earned just one point in back-to-back games at the Verizon Center and had a six-game point streak snapped with a 4-2 loss to Boston on Saturday. The Capitals, 4-0-2 in their previous six, couldn’t recover after falling behind 3-0 in the second period.

"Obviously, it’s frustrating. It would have been a huge win for us. But you have to give the Bruins credit. They’re first in the East for a reason," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "It was one of those games. We need to have it no matter what if want to give ourselves the best chance. Unfortunately we didn’t, so we have to move on and focus on the next game."

The defeat helped push Washington two points behind the East’s two wild-card teams, Columbus and Detroit, with eight games to go for all three teams. The Blue Jackets and Red Wings also have more non-shootout victories than the Capitals, who are tied with Toronto at 80 points but have two games in hand on the Maple Leafs.

Washington will play just one of its next six contests at home, Tuesday against West playoff contender Dallas, but is 2-0-1 in its last three on the road.

The Capitals handled the Predators a 5-2 loss in the only meeting this season Dec. 7 in the nation’s capital. Alex Ovechkin scored one of Washington’s three goals in the opening period and enters his team’s first trip to Nashville since Nov. 15, 2011, needing two more to reach 50 for the first time since 2009-10.

Ovechkin and his teammates will face a Predators squad that’s alternated good and bad defensive performances in its last seven games. Nashville (32-32-11) has yielded five or more goals in four of those games and a total of three in the other three.

The Predators are coming off their worst showing of the season, falling 7-3 in Dallas on Friday. The seven goals were also the most allowed by two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne in his career.

"They looked fresh," coach Barry Trotz said. "They jumped on us. I don’t know how many pucks we just got it to the red line and just turned it over and they transitioned on us, and it’s hard to play that way. You’re spending your energy in the wrong area."

Despite their recent defensive struggles, the Predators were 3-0-1 in their four games before the rout in Dallas, and they ended a season-worst, six-game home losing streak with a 6-1 drubbing of Buffalo on Thursday.

While he hasn’t faced the Predators often, Ovechkin has six goals and four assists in eight career matchups. The Capitals star, however, hasn’t scored a goal in Nashville since his first game there March 18, 2008.

With Holtby starting Saturday, Washington will likely turn to Jaroslav Halak, who is 8-2-3 with a 1.29 goals-against average and four shutouts in his last 14 games against the Predators.

Rinne made 39 saves in his only start against the Capitals, the 3-1 home win in November 2011.