Capitals shut out by Predators in preseason finale

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010; 11:33 PM

The Washington Capitals received their biggest taste of the speed, energy and the nature of the NHL's regular season in their final exhibition game, but it was the Nashville Predators who demonstrated those qualities in abundance rather than the home team.

With its full complement of regular players, including standouts Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and Matthew Lombardi, Nashville shut out the Capitals, 3-0, in a Sunday matinee at Verizon Center. The loss ended Washington's preseason on a sour note, dropping its record to 5-1 and providing a resounding reminder that there are plenty of kinks to work out before the season opener Friday in Atlanta.

"I'm always afraid when you start winning all these games in a row and then you play for real," Coach Bruce Boudreau said after Rinne's 22-save shutout. "You know you're going to get your comeuppance, because at the end of any winning streak you're not playing anywhere near as well as you should be and we weren't playing very well today. We had 21 or 22 shots, but nothing was sharp. We weren't sharp at all and consequently that's why they made us look so bad."

Nashville is equipped with the perfect style to slow the Capitals. The Predators have a big, physical and fast lineup, particularly on defense. That the Predators appeared determined to make the most of their final tuneup of the preseason amplified Washington's lack of focus.

The Predators' first goal, by Cal O'Reilly in the second period, came after a series of giveaways prevented Washington from clearing the puck out of its zone. In the third period, Joel Ward scored the first of his two goals by gaining possession of the puck after it hopped over Mike Green's stick at the blue line and then skating in for a short-handed breakaway. Ward beat Capitals goaltender Dany Sabourin with a one-timer to make it 3-0 five minutes later when O'Reilly fed him the puck from behind the goal.

"It's pretty disappointing [to end the preseason with the loss]," Capitals forward Boyd Gordon said. "They played the body and it was just one of those games where we just seemed to keep losing that battle. I think the energy level wasn't good and it's one of those things that we have to learn we can't just turn on when the season starts."

The performance of rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth was perhaps the biggest highlight of the contest for the Capitals. Neuvirth started and stopped all 13 Predators' shots he faced in the first 30 minutes before Sabourin, who allowed all three goals against on 15 shots, played the balance of the game.

Through 179 minutes this preseason, Neuvirth, who played in two full games and the half of two more, stopped 69 of the 75 shots he faced for a .920 save percentage.

"They didn't have any big rebounds," Neuvirth said. "I was finally feeling like myself. I thought I played pretty well [Sunday]. It was a good effort. They played a full lineup, so it was a big challenge for us. They beat us, but you gotta regroup."

Several players hoping to crack the Capitals' regular season lineup - including Marcus Johansson, Jay Beagle and Andrew Gordon - sat out against the Predators as Boudreau wanted to give some of the team's veterans time in another preseason game.

Center Mathieu Perreault, who is still fighting to make it past Wednesday when the team must trim its roster to the league-mandated 23-player maximum, did face Nashville and garnered praise.

"I thought in the first period he was our best player," Boudreau said. "Then I thought in the second and third period nobody was really playing with him. It's hard for him to do it himself."

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