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Ovechkin, Capitals down Predators

The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- After losing five of their previous seven games the Washington Capitals were starting to feel the rest of the Metropolitan Division nipping at their heels.

Saturday night's 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators helped keep them at a distance.

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin extended his lead in the NHL's goal-scoring race and rookie defenseman Nate Schmidt scored his first NHL goal as the Capitals moved one point past the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers and into second in the Metropolitan Division standings.

The Capitals (15-12-2) and Rangers (15-14-1) face off in New York on Saturday night.

"We did a lot of good things to get the lead," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "We put ourselves in a good position. We did the right things."

Right winger Troy Brouwer, defenseman Karl Alzner and left winger Eric Fehr also scored for the Capitals. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby turned aside 34 of 36 shots for his 13th win of the season. It was just the seventh regulation win for the Capitals this season.

"Lately, we've had to come from behind and you're not going to have a ton of success doing that," Brouwer said. "You can only win so many games doing that. We wanted to get off to a good start and we did."

Defenseman Roman Josi and left winger Eric Nystrom scored goals for the Predators (13-14-3), who lost for the fifth straight time despite the return of defenseman Shea Weber from an eye injury.

"It's making it very difficult," said Predators coach Barry Trotz, whose team is last in the Central Division with 29 points. "You can't just look at the big picture. Better to just look at the next game. We had enough zone time and enough chances to win. We just don't have the finish that we need right now.

"That's where the Pekka Rinnes of the world can nullify a lot of things for you."

Rinne has been sidelined the past 20 games with a hip injury. His replacement, goaltender Marek Mazanec, turned aside 28 of 33 shots for his seventh loss of the season.

"We've just got to win some games," said Josi. "We didn't play poorly tonight and they just capitalized on a lot of chances."

Both teams entered the game looking to rebound from tough losses and the Capitals started with some early offense.

Brouwer, who had not scored in almost a month after totaling 19 goals last season, snapped an 11-game drought 6:44 into the game when he won a battle in front of the net and backhanded a blind shot that eluded Mazanec.

The goal was Brouwer's sixth of the season and first since Nov. 9 -- and it started an offensive avalanche for the Capitals.

Ovechkin was next, hammering a slap shot past Mazanec for his league-leading 22nd goal of the season and ninth on the power play, also the most in the NHL. Ovechkin set up at the top of the left circle and powered a shot though the crook of Mazanec's left arm.

The goal stretched Ovechkin's lead over St. Louis Blues forward Alex Steen to two goals.

The Capitals made it 3-0 a little more than three minutes later when center Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff back to Alzner, who snapped a shot through a screen and into the right side of the net for his first goal of the season. It was Alzner's sixth career goal and his first in 148 games at the Verizon Center.

Washington was 22.5 seconds from carrying a three-goal lead into intermission when Josi scored his first goal of the season, snapping a wrist shot past Holtby's catching glove to make it 3-1.

The Predators entered the game 1-8-0 when trailing after the first period, and when rookie defenseman Nate Schmidt gave Washington a 4-1 lead 3:29 into the third period, it all but ensured the Predators would be dealt their fifth straight defeat.

Nystrom gave the Predators some life when he scored just 23 seconds later to make it 4-2, but Nashville couldn't mount enough offense to end their losing streak.

Fehr finished off the Predators when he scored his fourth goal of the season with 5:10 remaining in the game.

NOTES: Predators D Shea Weber returned to the lineup after missing three games with an eye injury. ... Capitals G Michal Neuvirth sat out his third straight game after suffering a lower body injury from stepping on a puck during warmups. "I have to take it as experience and be smarter and watch where I step next time," Neuvirth said. ... Predators C Matt Hendricks played his first regular-season game in Washington since leaving the Capitals last summer and signing with Nashville. Hendricks spent three seasons with the Capitals. ... Capitals C Martin Erat (723) and RW Joel Ward (230) combined to play in 953 games in their careers with the Predators. Erat's 481 points are second on the Predators' all-time list, behind David Legwand (546). "I'm trying to just remember all the good times I had there," Erat said before the game. "I learned a lot from (head coach Barry Trotz). Great coach, great person." ... The Capitals visit the New York Rangers on Sunday night before returning home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. ... The Predators are off until Tuesday night when they visit the Rangers. They'll then return home for games against the Stars, Sharks and Blackhawks.
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