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Predators vs. Capitals Plus/Minus: Askarov Impresses In First Win

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From left: Yaroslav Askarov, Roman Josi, Juuse Saros and Jeremy Lauzon courtesy of the Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators squeaked out a controversial 3-2 shootout win over the Washington Capitals Saturday night at Capital One Arena behind a strong performance from young Russian net-minder and promising prospect Yaroslav Askarov.

The Predators enter the new year with a 20-16-1 record and 41 points, placing them fourth in the Central Division and slotting them in the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.

With every game you take the good with the bad, so here’s a look at what went right and what didn’t in the Predators’ shootout win against the Capitals Saturday night.

(+) Yaroslav Askarov

Askarov earned his first NHL win in his second career start and third appearance, saving 27 of 29 shots during regulation and overtime and denying fellow Russians Evegeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin in the shootout. 

Askarov’s style of play reminds me of former Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun because of his fearlessness in playing the puck and his non-traditional style in the crease.

While he had some rough moments, Askarov also flashed some glimpses of potential that should make GM Barry Trotz and the front office very pleased as well as stir excitement among the fanbase for what’s to be expected once Askarov likely comes to Nashville on a more permanent basis.

For example, his outlet pass to Filip Forsberg for the quick rush despite a Capitals’ player approaching him was one of his more notable moments.

Also of note was his composure in the shootout despite facing two fellow countrymen who he grew up watching taking the first two shots against him.

Both of the goals Askarov allowed were a result of a defensive breakdown and bad positioning more so than his goaltending ability. The first one happened because of a Jeremy Lauzon turnover. 

 

Though Lauzon recovered to the front of the net, he didn’t seeing Beck Malenstyn sneak around to the backdoor for the rebound goal.

 

Washington’s second goal was a signature Ovechkin one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle. While technically not a power-play goal because the penalty had just expired, the Predators were down a man on the rush. Yakov Trenin was in the passing lane but was caught watching the puck as Ovechkin snuck to the far side. Trenin needs to be more aware of his positioning on plays like this.

 

(-) Controlling the lead

The Predators once again went up 2-0 early on only to let the Caps tie it 2-2 and survive into overtime thanks a fortunate no-goal call in the final minute. There’s not much else to say here other than to repeat what head coach Andrew Brunette has said time and time again this season: the team needs to play with more tenacity, earn some more wins by going into the tough areas and stop taking its foot off the gas.

Finding a way to win is important, but it could just as easily have gone the other way. While the Predators had systematic breakdowns from time to time, there is nothing glaringly problematic with their current game overall. Both Capitals’ goals demonstrated that a slight lapse in judgment and awareness — even for a split second — can be costly. 

(+) Support in Offensive Zone 

The most important aspect of Nashville’s offensive game that Brunette continues to focus on is support in the offensive zone. The clearest example of this was executed perfectly on the Predators first goal. In the clip below, the constant rotation and support each player provided the other leading up to Luke Evangelista’s goal was evident.

Evangelista had a solid game, and getting on the score sheet could be just what he needs to get going. He’s shooting more, tallying another four shots on goal last night, which is exactly what he needs to be doing.

 

Of course, cycling the puck is critical for success, but even when the Predators lost the puck on this sequence, there was a player there to support and take over. That’s the recipe for success in Brunette’s system — constant movement and constant support within small areas.

This type of play was evident early in the season when I posted that the use of small triangles for support and quick passes reminded me of the legendary Barcelona soccer teams. Sean Shapiro spoke with Brunette about the influence others sports have on his philosophy, and Barcelona was a prime topic of discussion.

(videos are courtesy of the NHL YouTube channel) 

Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10

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