- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After a hard-fought tie on the road against Southeast Division rival Carolina on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals seemed prime candidates for a letdown against the Nashville Predators last night.

The Caps followed that script. They were decisively outplayed by the Predators in a 5-2 loss that solidified their residency in the Southeast Division cellar.

Caps rookie goaltender Maxime Ouellet struggled, giving up several rebounds that led to Nashville goals. The Caps did not give Ouellet much assistance, failing to clear opponents from the area between the low slot and goal crease. Caps coach Glen Hanlon would not fault his goalie’s effort.

“When you get outshot 36-19, you can hardly point a finger at a goaltender,” Hanlon said. “Nashville has good speed, they were coming off three straight losses, and they are in a playoff hunt. I think [the result] was more a case of them playing well.”

Nashville’s Scott Hartnell scored the game’s first goal on a power play 4:20 into the opening period. With Joel Kwiatkowski in the box for tripping, Andreas Johansson’s shot from the right point was deflected between the pads of Ouellet by Hartnell.

The Predators struck again at 6:51 of the first period on an even-strength goal by Vladimir Orszagh. Predators right wing Martin Erat created a turnover when he slammed Caps defenseman Jason Doig into the right boards along the goal line. Erat carried the puck into the low slot, and Ouellet stopped his backhand shot. But Orszagh collected the rebound and deposited it into the net.

Mike Grier reduced the Caps’ deficit at 9:28 of the first period with his sixth goal of the season. With the teams skating 4-on-4, Grier carried the puck into the Nashville zone along the left side and sent a tough angle backhand shot on goal that somehow squeezed between the skates of goaltender Chris Mason. Grier scored in consecutive games for the first time since January 2003.

That was the only mistake Mason made all evening, but he was relatively untested. The Caps managed only 11 shots on goal through the first two periods.

Marek Zidlicky’s power-play goal at 8:39 of the second period extended the Nashville lead to 3-1. Ouellet stopped Erat’s wrist shot from the left faceoff dot, but the rebound fell on the stick of Zidlicky, who lifted a wrist shot over the fallen goaltender.

Hartnell scored his second goal of the game with 10.9 seconds remaining in the second. Ouellet stopped Jeremy Stevenson’s shot from the right side, but Hartnell shook off Sergei Gonchar and put away the rebound.

“That was a big goal for them,” Ouellet said. “If the period ends 3-1, we still have a shot to come back in the third.”

Wyatt Smith scored Nashville’s fifth goal on a backhand shot from directly in front of Ouellet. Smith was untouched by Kwiatkowski as the Nashville forward positioned himself in front of the defenseless Ouellet.

Peter Bondra scored a meaningless third-period goal for the Caps, his 20th.

“We realized we haven’t been playing complete games,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “The guys responded well tonight.”

Darcy Verot of the Caps and Nashville rookie Jordin Tootoo fought twice in the first period. Tootoo got the better of the first battle, and the two fought to a draw in the second bout. Tootoo received a match penalty after the second fight for having tape on his hands, which is forbidden by the NHL.

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