Predators 5, Capitals 2
Olie Kolzig shook his head angrily after retrieving the puck from his net for the second time in about five minutes early last night.
The goalie, once again, was doing all he could to get the Washington Capitals off to a good start, but his teammates simply wouldn't stay out of the penalty box. And Nashville Predators left wing Paul Kariya was all too eager to take advantage, setting up back-to-back power-play goals in the first period to give the Predators a lead they did not relinquish in a 5-2 victory before 11,088 at MCI Center.
"It kills your morale," Kolzig said of the power-play goals. "The first one, I didn't even see the pass. The second one, I couldn't get back in time. The difference tonight was special teams."
The Capitals' generosity extended into the second and third periods, too. Defenseman Steve Eminger's skate redirected the puck into his own goal, then with eight minutes to play, Nashville's Steve Sullivan (two goals) sent a shot off the back of Kolzig's leg on the power play to put the game out of reach. The Predators were 3 for 6 on the power play; Washington, meantime, squandered a two-man advantage for 1 minute 18 seconds in the opening minutes and finished 1 for 10.
"The old saying is, 'You don't score on a five on three, you're not going to win the game,' " said Kolzig, who made 29 saves. Nashville backup goalie Chris Mason made 30 stops at the other end to help the Predators win their fourth in a row and 10th in 12 games.
"We played well five on five, but they found a hole in our penalty kill," said Ben Clymer, who, along with Alex Ovechkin, scored for the Capitals. "They exploited one seam that was there. We fixed that after the first period. But they have a very talented player in Paul Kariya and the first two got them going."
Kariya set up defenseman Marek Zidlicky twice with perfect passes. Zidlicky only needed to put the puck on net -- and he did, two times, in the span of 4:28 in the opening period to give the Predators a 2-0 lead.
"Guys were in the right spots and things were clicking," Kariya said.
Ovechkin's second period power-play goal, his 17th, trimmed Nashville's lead to 2-1 and gave him the rookie scoring lead over Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the first time since mid-October. Streaking in on the left wing, he took a crossing pass from Andrew Cassels, raced around Nashville defenseman Kimmo Timonen and beat Mason from point-blank range by lifting the puck up and over the Predators goalie's glove hand.
But it wasn't nearly enough for the rebuilding Capitals, who lost for sixth in seven games and marked the midpoint of a tough four game stretch. After defeating the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers last Saturday, they are 1-1 entering Friday night's contest against Central Division-leading Detroit. They travel to Los Angeles to face the Kings, yet another Western Conference contender, on Wednesday.
Nashville, on the other hand, continues to build on the breakthrough season it enjoyed in 2004, when it qualified for the playoffs for the first time. Behind leading scorer Kariya, the speedy Predators improved to 18-4-3.
Nashville's Sullivan could have extended the lead in the second period after being awarded a penalty shot. But the winger was thwarted by Kolzig, who made a pad save on Sullivan's forehand attempt. Sullivan eventually got his goal anyway. With 3:01 remaining in the middle frame, the right wing's pass through the crease ricocheted off Eminger, who was tied up with Kariya on Kolzig's doorstep, to put the Predators ahead 3-1.
Clymer banged in a rebound at 8:40 of the final period to trim Washington's lead to 3-2. But the Predators finished off the Capitals the same way they dug in during the opening minutes: on the power play. Bryan Muir (hooking) and Dainius Zubrus (roughing) were both in the penalty box when Sullivan's shot from behind the goal went off an unsuspecting Kolzig and into the net for the Predators' fourth goal.