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6 things to know for Caps-Predators: Kuznetsov is back in the top-six

6 things to know for Caps-Predators: Kuznetsov is back in the top-six

The Capitals (2-0-2) travel to Nashville for a date with the Predators (2-1-0) on Thursday in the first of a two-game road trip.

You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Washington with Caps FaceOff Live at 7 p.m. and Caps Pregame Live at 7:30 p.m. before the game at 8 p.m. Stick with NBC Sports Washington afterward for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here are six things to know for Thursday’s game.

The Caps have lost two in a row

After winning the first two games of the season, Washington has dropped the last two games in overtime. To make matters worse, both games included giving up third-period leads.

The first period against Dallas was complete domination for the Caps and easily their best period of the season. It was quite the opposite in the third. Nicklas Backstrom noted that after the game and said the team needs to have the same intensity to finish the game as they started with.

The fact that both losses came in overtime was also not lost on the team. When asked about that after the game, head coach Todd Reirden said they were still deciding on their 3-on-3 personnel early in the season.

Will Dmitry Orlov play?

Orlov left Wednesday’s practice early. Reirden revealed to the media afterward that he left due to a lower-body issue, but the team was just being precautionary and he is expected to play Thursday.

But what if he doesn’t?

This is why teams carry an extra defenseman. With the Caps so tight against the cap, however, they were already down to just six healthy defensemen. Michal Kempny has not yet been activated and Reirden said he will not be an option for Thursday. That means if Orlov doesn’t play, the Caps are suddenly down to five defensemen and on the road.

The Caps absolutely have to have Orlov ready for Thursday's game and for him and all six of their healthy defensemen to stay healthy.

Kuznetsov back on the second line

It was only a matter of time before Evgeny Kuznetsov made it back into the top-six and it appears that change will be made for Thursday’s game.

Kuznetsov practiced on the second line Wednesday switching spots with Lars Eller. It took Kuznetsov less than five minutes to score in his season debut and now he will get to work with Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, both of whom have two goals already this season.

How the third line looks with Eller is something to watch as well. Eller with Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik was the projected line heading into the season and chances are that’s the way it will stay for much of the year. With no Brett Connolly, how good will this line be offensively?

The power play is ice cold

One reason for the Caps’ two-game losing streak? The power play. In the last two games, Washington has gone 0-for-11. Considering both games were lost in overtime, even one power-play goal could have been the difference between winning and losing.

The silver lining is that it should improve with Kuznetsov back in the lineup. Yes, he was in the lineup last game, but some rust and adjustments to start are to be expected.

The power play has looked out of sync and there has been talk from players and Reirden that they are getting out-worked by opponent’s penalty kill. The game against Carolina in particular, the break-ins were abysmal. Kuznetsov should certainly help with that has the primary puck carrier carrying into the offensive zone.

The Caps don’t play well against Nashville

You thought Washington’s history against Dallas was rough? That’s nothing. The Caps have lost six straight against the Predators and nine of their last 11. They have also lost six of their last seven in Nashville. In two losses last season, Washington was outscored 13-5.

The worst of the two losses, a 7-2 drubbing in Nashville in January, was the third of what would turn into a seven-game losing streak. Of a streak full of awful moments, this game was arguably Washington’s worst of the seven.

There’s more to Nashville's offense now

The Predators’ strength has been its blue line for several years. Outside of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and (sigh) Filip Forsberg, there has not been much in the way of offense for the Predators. They added another element on that end of the ice in the offseason with Matt Duchene.

Duchene was signed in the offseason and has had an immediate impact on the team with six assists in three games. He steps into the lineup and instantly becomes one of the team’s top offensive threats.


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Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Ilya Samsonov had his best NHL performance on Saturday in a big 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Capitals got contributions from players all over the lineup in a big win.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Everyone is pitching in

Look at Saturday's game and Wednesday's game. Whatever the Caps needed, they were able to get. Against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, they needed a key coach's challenge and the video coaches delivered. They needed someone to take over the game and T.J. Oshie delivered. They needed a big night from the penalty kill and Carl Hagelin and Co. delivered. They needed a response to Boston's tying goal and John Carlson delivered.

Now look at Saturday's game. Ilya Samsonov got the start and he delivered when the Caps had a slow start to the game. The fourth line settled everything down and Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover behind the net to give Washington the lead. The bottom-six scored twice to give Washington control, Oshie scored a quick response goal when Tampa Bay tried to battle back and the penalty kill delivered again.

The Caps are not being carried by Ovechkin, it's not a hot goalie or a dominant blue line, it is a complete team effort and it is extremely impressive to watch.

Samsonov had his best NHL game

We knew Samsonov and Braden Holtby were going to split the weekend's games for the dad's trip. I expected Holtby would get the tougher game in Tampa Bay, but instead Todd Reirden went with Samsonov. The rookie had three brilliant saves in the first five minutes of the game. Tampa Bay was the better team for the first two periods and Samsonov only gave up one goal in those 40 minutes. This was a big boy offense and some big boy hockey. Samsonov was up to the task.

Good penalty kill, too many penalties

The Lightning entered this game with the second-best power play in the NHL. Limiting penalties was a big key to the game for Washington and...they did not do that. The Caps gave up five power play opportunities to Tampa Bay, just daring the Lighting offense to take fire. Tampa Bay was only able to cash in only once.

On the one hand, it's great that the penalty kill is playing so well. On the other hand, the Caps must stop taking so many penalties.

Time to Panik?

I have stressed the importance of patience for Richard Panik who is not only adjusting to a new team, but who had an injury and missed 10 games on LTIR. Now, however, it seems like patience is starting to run out.

Panik played a team-low 8:10 on Saturday. Players who get that little ice time are usually either fourth line players or players who do not contribute to special teams. Panik is supposed to be a penalty killer, but despite five penalty kill opportunities, he registered only 14 seconds of shorthanded ice time.

Panik's offensive struggles have been well documented (he had an assist on Saturday), but if he is not contributing on the penalty kill either...well, that's an issue.

Turning point

Tampa Bay looked like the better team for the first 40 minutes. Thanks to Samsonov, the game was tied at 1 at the start of the third. These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL, but it was Washington's bottom-six that gave them the edge as Lars Eller scored early in the third and Garnet Hathaway added a second goal just 45 seconds later.

Suddenly the Lightning were on their heels after looking in control for the majority of the game.

Play of the game

Just when the Caps took the one-goal lead, Hathaway came swooping in to make it 3-1.

Stat of the game

The Caps' PK had a success rate of only 78.9-percent last season. This is a dramatic improvement.

Quote of the game

John Hathaway, father or Garnet, stole the show between the first and second period:

"I think as parents, we try to teach them like two lessons as kids growing up. It's like, if you can dream it, you can do it and never, never, never give up. The dads are here tonight and I think they're not only so proud of their sons, but they're happy for their sons because they know that they had big dreams, they dared to dream big and they never gave up."

Fan predictions

Hey, two for two.

No Ovechkin goal, but you got the score right.

Eller with a big goal tonight assisted by Panik.

Backstrom had only two, but just a few games removed from returning from injury, he looks like he hasn't missed any time at all out there.

This bit will never get old to me.


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Samsonov weathers the Lightning in shutdown performance

Samsonov weathers the Lightning in shutdown performance

Ilya Samsonov got the difficult assignment on Saturday of playing on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He proved to be up to the challenge with a brilliant performance in net, leading the Capitals to the 5-2 victory, their second win over the Lightning in 16 days.

Here is how Washington won.

Ilya Samsonov

There's no question who the player of this game was. Samsonov was brilliant in this game. He had an immediate impact as the Lightning came out firing. Samsonov robbed Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev all in the first five minutes of the game.

Samsonov did not fade down the stretch either. Tampa Bay dominated in the second period and Samsonov turned aside 10 of the 11 shots he faced. For the game, he stopped 26 out of 28.

The fourth line and top line team up

The Lightning were all over Washington at the start of the game and Samsonov was the only reason Tampa Bay did not take advantage. A really strong shift by the fourth line for Washington seemed to settle everything down. Soon after, the Caps were celebrating a 1-0 lead.

Defenseman Jan Rutta had the puck behind the net. Ondrej Palat came wheeling around for the handoff and Alex Ovechkin saw him coming. As Palat wheeled one way, Ovechkin came charging the other. That forced Rutta to flub the pass and the puck bounced right in front of the net to a wide-open Nicklas Backstrom who fired it into the net.

Incidental contact

Tampa Bay thought they had the tie early in the second when Carter Verhaeghe finally got one past Samsonov, but the goal was immediately waved off for goalie interference.

Mathieu Joseph and John Carlson were battling in the defensive zone when Joseph was skated into Samsonov. He was not necessarily pushed, but he and Carlson battled their way into the Caps' netminder, which did not allow Samsonov the chance to defend against Verhaeghe's shot.

You never know what can happen with a goalie interference call, but in this case the referee got it right. It was no goal for incidental contact and no penalty for goalie interference.

The bottom-six

These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL. But that's not all it takes to win in the NHL and the Caps' showed off their depth in the third period, which really proved to be the difference.

With the game tied at one, Dmitry Orlov made a great play at the offensive blue line to get the puck over to Richard Panik despite the immediate pressure he faced. Panik set up Lars Eller who one-timed it past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Just 45 seconds later the fourth line came streaking down the ice and Brendan Leipsic teed up Garnet Hathaway, who took it in on net and chipped it through Vasileskiy.

Those two quick goals suddenly turned the game on its head. To that point, the Lightning had been the better team. After that, the Caps were dominant.