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Season preview: Nashville Predators

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Season preview: Nashville Predators

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: Nashville Predators

2014-15 record: 47-25-10, 2nd in the Central

How they finished: Lost in 6 games to Chicago in the Western Conference Quarterfinals

Coach: Peter Laviolette (2nd season)

Notable additions: C Cody Hodgson, D Barret Jackman

Notable subtractions: C Matt Cullen, D Anton Volchenkov, D Cody Franson, C Mike Santorelli

RELATED: Projecting the Caps' lineup: Offensive lines

Schedule against the Capitals: Tue. Feb. 9 at Nashville, Fri. Mar. 18 at Washington

Outlook: Pekka RInne was having a Vezina caliber season last year before he suffered an injury midway through the season and he never looked the same. Nashville fell from the top team in the Western Conference to second place in their division. His health this year is the most important factor for a Predators' team that changed little in the course of the offseason.

The Predators re-signed Mike Ribeiro after a sparkling season, but he has been incredibly inconsistent throughout his career. It's hard to trust a team with him as their top line center, even if it is between Filip Forsberg and James Neal. If Ribeiro doesn't work out, the team could always turn to Mike Fisher...who is 35. Clearly his 50 point seasons are behind him.

Defensively, the Predators did improve, albeit slightly, by subtracting Anton Volchenkov and adding Barret Jackman. 

The best thing you can say about Nashville this offseason is that they didn't get worse which doesn't sound like high praise until you look around at the rest of the conference.

Expectations: Nashville has a good roster and with Rinne on top of his game it can be great, but it does not look like a championship team. Having said that, the Predators showed their potential last season. Imagine if Rinne had not gotten injured and played as well as he did at the start of the season, they could have made a run all the way to the Finals.

Look at the rest of the conference. Anaheim is the favorite but untrustworthy in the playoffs, Chicago overhauled their roster to stay under the salary cap and St. Louis took a step back unless you consider Troy Brouwer an upgrade over T.J. Oshie.

This isn't a roster I completely trust, but you can't argue with Rinne and after seeing how things came together last season, Nashville could make a deep postseason run.

MORE CAPS: Projecting the Caps' lineup: Defense and goaltending

See more team previews:

Pacific Division 
Anaheim Ducks 
Arizona Coyotes 
Calgary Flames 
Edmonton Oilers 
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks 
Vancouver Canucks

Central Division 
Chicago Blackhawks 
Colorado Avalanche
Dallas Stars
Minnesota Wild
St. Louis Blues 8/13 
Winnipeg Jets 8/14

Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins 8/15 
Buffalo Sabres 8/16 
Detroit Red Wings 8/17 
Florida Panthers 8/18 
Montreal Canadiens 8/19 
Ottawa Senators 8/20
Tampa Bay Lightning 8/21 
Toronto Maple Leafs 8/22

Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes 8/23 
Columbus Blue Jackets 8/24 
New Jersey Devils 8/25 
New York Islanders 8/26 
New York Rangers 8/27 
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28 
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29 
Washington Capitals 8/30

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5 players who impressed in Capitals' win over St. Louis

5 players who impressed in Capitals' win over St. Louis

After a number of lackluster performances, the Capitals finally looked like their championship selves on Tuesday in a 4-0 blanking of St. Louis. Not only was it Washington’s first win of the preseason, but their first period goal gave the Caps their first lead of the preseason.

Here are five Caps who impressed in a very physical win over the Blues.

Pheonix Copley

Copley got the full game in what is expected to be his final appearance of the preseason and boy did he deliver. He was absolutely brilliant with a shutout, 42-save performance including not one, but two phenomenal highlight reel saves.

In the first period, both Caps defensemen got caught in the corner leaving all of the real estate in front of Copley wide open. After a quick pass, the netminder suddenly faced a 2-on-0, but he came up with the big save to rob Jordan Kyrou as he stretched out the glove.

Copley followed that up with another big save in the second period to deny Ryan O’Reilly. He first denied O’Reilly with the pad, but looked helpless on the rebound. O’Reilly tried to backhand the puck over Copley, but he kicked up his heel in desperation and somehow kicked the puck out.

Backup goalie was one of the few question marks facing the Caps this season. Copley came into camps as the man to beat, but he still had to earn the job or the Caps would look elsewhere for other options. He earned the job on Tuesday. Copley is going to be the backup and if he can continue to play like he did Tuesday, he’s going to be just fine.

Shane Gersich

One of the hardest parts of adjusting to the NHL is the speed of the game. That’s a lesson Gersich seemed to take to heart with his goal on Tuesday.

Riley Barber carried the puck into the offensive zone, but lost it on a sweep check from Colton Parayko. A trailing Gersich wasted no time in firing the loose puck on net where it beat Jake Allen to the top corner.

After getting in five games at the end of last season, there was some buzz surrounding Gersich heading into camp. Up until Tuesday, however, he was having a very quiet preseason. In St. Louis he looked like he was playing with more confidence and had a much more noticeable performance and impact because of it.

Liam O’Brien

Tuesday’s game was a feisty one. The Blues played a physical game that got downright nasty in the third period. While today’s NHL continues to get faster and more skilled, this game felt like an old-school slobber knocker.

That suited O’Brien just fine.

In the second period a puck trickled behind Copley and he laid back to cover it up. Pat Maroon skated in and gave Copley a jab to the back with his stick despite the fact that the puck was covered. A few minutes later, O’Brien made Maroon answer for it and the two dropped gloves in what can only be described as a heavyweight bought.

O’Brien gets extra points for that glove toss.

As the game went on and devolved, the Blues were determined to get the Caps out from in front of the net at any cost, but O’Brien was able to take the physical punishment and doled out about as much as he took.

It was an old-school style game and the old-school O’Brien fit right in.

Madison Bowey

Todd Reirden came out and said he needed to see more from Bowey and wanted him to play to his strengths. Specifically, he wanted him to be more physical in the defensive zone and more assertive in the offensive zone. Bowey checked both of those boxes on Tuesday.

Bowey was noticeably more physical in his own end. While that may have resulted in an ill-advised interference in the second period, it at least showed he was taking his head coach’s words to heart.

That was also evident in the offensive zone where Bowey was much more involved. He finished the game with three shots on goal and scored Washington’s third goal on the night, tipping in a pass from Ovechkin through goalie Chad Johnson.

Did he look like a top-four defenseman? No, but he showed there is an extra gear to his game we have not really seen yet and one he will have to reach if he hopes to take on the bigger role he hopes to have this season.

John Carlson

After a lower-body injury kept him out the first few days of camp, Carlson finally made his preseason debut Tuesday and it looked like there was no rust to his game at all.

The veteran defenseman had an impact on both ends, as he recorded two blocked shots and two takeaways. His defensive positioning was great and he even stopped a St. Louis breakaway by cutting off the breakout pass.

Offensively, Carlson had four total shot attempts, two of which went on net. He also set up a goal by Nathan Walker with the quick hands to send the puck back through the crease behind Jake Allen for the tap-in.

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The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

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USA Today

The pressure is on for Madison Bowey to show he deserves more playing time

Coming into training camp, we already knew who the Capitals’ seven defensemen were going to be this season. Among those seven is Madison Bowey who, with a new two-year, one-way contract, looks like a lock to make Washington’s roster.

In terms of playing time, however, Bowey still has a lot to prove and, according to Todd Reirden, he has not yet seen enough from him.

“We're going to put [Bowey] in opportunities where he can play minutes and play with different people and see where he's at,” Reirden said Sunday. “Obviously our three pairs we had last year worked well for us and we're fortunate to have all six of those guys back. That being said, he needs to make it a difficult decision for me on a nightly basis. That's in his hands. He needs to push me in that direction of making a change to that group because as of right now he wouldn't be.”

The Capitals’ top four on defense is set meaning Bowey will be competing for time on the third pairing with Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos. With only three preseason games left before the start of the regular season, that makes Tuesday critical for Bowey to show Reirden that he deserves not just to make the team, but to be a regular in the lineup.

“I've always been trying to be a guy that's hard to play against and making sure it's a tough night for the opponents,” Bowey said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “For myself, it's playing a two-way game and sticking to that. When I'm kind of throwing my weight around and being engaged and playing with urgency, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

The issue Reirden sees is that while there are strengths to Bowey’s game, they are not always prevalent on the ice in games.

“I think he's got to continue to allow the things that are difference makers in his game to show up,” Reirden said. “He's a big strong guy that can skate so he's got to be very difficult to play against in the defensive zone. And his skating ability up ice has got to be a factor in terms of adding to the offense when he gets the opportunity and trying to use his shot and his offensive instincts in zone. Those are the things he has in his toolbox that we need to see more on a regular basis.”

In addition to being a physical defenseman, Bowey also possesses strong offensive instincts. Yet, neither aspect of his game was all that evident last season when Bowey was still adjusting to the NHL. That sort of initial struggle is to be expected for many young players who tend to overthink the game. They need time to let the game become more instinctive.

But now, it is time to see improvement from Bowey in those areas.

“When I'm thinking and not just playing my game, that's when you can get into trouble,” he said. “When I'm just playing urgent, trusting my instincts and letting the game come to me, I think that's when I'm at my best.”

When talking about his expectations for him on Tuesday, Reirden described Bowey as a “veteran.” He’s not seen as a developing player anymore.

Clearly, the standard has been raised for Bowey. He needs to respond.

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