Power Play: Predators spoil Trotz’s return, beat Capitals late in regulation

James Neal scored twice against Washington, including the game-winning goal.

Nashville, Tenn. — Spoiling the return of former head coach Barry Trotz, the Nashville Predators (30-9-4) scored two goals late in regulation to send the Washington Capitals (24-12-8) to their first regulation loss since December 23rd.

Two evenly matched teams battling it out

While the Predators and Capitals are lighting up their respective conferences, one thing is quite clear: Washington is just as good on the ice as Nashville. Regardless of the final score, the Capitals kept pace with the league-leading Predators for the entire 60 minutes of regulation.

There were moments when Nashville pinned the opposition in their own zone, firing a barrage of pucks at goaltender Braden Holtby. In the same respect, Washington had an even amount of time against Holtby’s counterpart Carter Hutton on the opposite side of the ice.

"I think it was a hard fought game," said Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm. "Battles all over the ice. It was nice for us to come back in the third and get the win."

While no slight at them, it’s hard to envision the Capitals on even ground with Nashville on paper and in the standings. However, it was apparent that head coach Barry Trotz has turned Washington into a team to be reckoned with again in the Eastern Conference.

"It was a really good game both ways," said head coach Peter Laviolette. "There were chances both way. It was fast. Good goaltending both ways. [Washington] has been playing really well. They’ve been probably the hottest team in the East right now. They came in here and played a really good game."

Alex Ovechkin knows how to play hockey

It was a good start to the game by the Predators. That is until one certain Russian forward known for scoring goals woke up the Washington offense.

After a James Neal goal gave Nashville a 2-0 lead just minutes into the second period, Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin scored a goal from just beyond the faceoff circle to the right of Hutton to cut the Predators lead to one.

Not long after that, Ovechkin scored again. On the power play. In nearly the same exact spot as his first goal.

"You just get amazed about it," said Ekholm. "He’s almost in the corner. I don’t really know how he sneaks them in, but they’re perfect shots every time. He gets two or three chances every game. We just really got to block from everywhere, I guess. I think everyone thought it was pretty ok to give him a bad shot in the corner, but he finds a way. He’s an elite goal scorer; maybe the best in the NHL. He’s a great player."

Stunningly enough, Ovechkin continued to find himself open with multiple chances in the same period to collect a natural hat trick. Fortunately for Nashville, along with some miraculous saves by Hutton, they held him to just the two goals the remainder of the night.

"Coming from the East as a coach and being in the East for the last ten years, I’ve seen it about 1,000 times," said Laviolette. "It’s hard to stop. He gets it off quick. It’s hard and it’s on the money. It’s hard to defend, as well, both from a defensive point of view and from a goaltenders point of view. The puck moves from the pass so quick and off the stick so quick. It’s hard to get over there sometimes."

Nashville finding ways to win

They’ve been doing it all season, but tonight was just another example of the Predators defying the odds and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

After the Capitals scored their second power play goal of the night, the seventh time an opposing team has scored at least two power play goals against Nashville this season, the Predators found themselves on the wrong side of the score with 18 minutes left in regulation to find an equalizer.

As time was winding down, Washington took its fourth penalty of the night with six minutes and change away from handing Nashville its first regulation loss at home since December 6th.

45 seconds into the power play, Ekholm sent a screamer from the point and tied the game at three.

"I think we all feel it somewhere here," said Ekholm. "It’s a group that has so much character. We’ve been battling back from deficits in the third before. Just stick with it. We got the power play goal and a lucky bounce, but I still think we feel somewhere we’re always going to come back Just keep working hard and it’s going to reward us."

Not even three minutes later, Neal intercepted a Matt Niskanen pass attempt in the offensive zone and buried it behind Holtby for the game-winning goal.

"I think our team has found a way to win all year," said Laviolette. "Whether we’ve been tied going into the third period, we’ve held on to a lead, we’ve lost a lead or we won it in overtime, whatever it might be. I think our best moments where when it became 3-2. For the rest of the game, the guys pressed and they pushed. The [defense] got involved in the rush. We were able to get the power play goal and then [Neal’s goal]. I like the fact there was a lot of confidence when it was 3-2."

James Neal — Scoring his first two goals since returning from a five-game injury absence, both of Neal’s goals were the type you would see coming from a pure goal-scorer. That’s why Nashville traded for him at the draft.

Alex Ovechkin — Ovechkin could be one of the best natural goal scorers in the entire league. His two goals this evening came from the exact same spot on the ice with only inches of room to work with.

Carter Hutton — In his sixth game, and first in relief of the injured Pekka Rinne, Hutton grabbed his first win of the season to show that he can handle things just fine until the return of Nashville’s star netminder.