Trotz makes return to Nashville as Caps take on Preds

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( - Barry Trotz's highly anticipated return to Music City is on tap Friday as the Nashville Predators welcome their former longtime head coach and his Washington Capitals to Bridgestone Arena.

Trotz served 15 seasons as head coach in Nashville, beginning with the franchise's inaugural campaign in 1998-99, until parting ways with the club last spring.

He amassed 557 wins in 1,196 regular-season games with the Predators, but was let go after Nashville missed the playoffs for a second straight season. Trotz had led Nashville to the postseason in seven of the previous eight campaigns.

"I'm excited," Trotz said in a conference call earlier this week. "I'm excited to get back home and see some friends, and I get to see my family for a little bit. It's good to get to go back home."

Nashville's decision to part ways with the only head coach it had ever known has proved beneficial for both Trotz and Peter Laviolette, the man who took his place behind the Predators bench.

Laviolette was tasked with transitioning the Preds from Trotz's defense-first style to a more up-tempo strategy and to say it has been a success would be an enormous understatement.

Nashville, which is tied with Anaheim for the most points in the NHL this season, has gone from an average of 2.61 goals per game in 2013-14 to 3.00 goals per game this season, and it has done so while somehow improving on defense. The Preds were 23rd in the league in team defense (2.84 GPG) in Trotz's last season in Music City and are currently first with only 2.17 goals surrendered per contest.

The Preds have yet to lose consecutive games under Laviolette, but Trotz's Capitals have been no slouch either. It took a little longer for Trotz to successfully implement his style of play in D.C., but Alex Ovechkin and his Washington teammates are thriving under the system now.

The Caps enter Friday's action third in the Metropolitan Division. They are three points behind the first-place New York Islanders and two in back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for second. The Isles and Pens face each other tonight on Long Island.

Washington is 6-0-1 this month and only has suffered one regulation loss over its last 19 trips to the ice, going 14-1-4 during that stretch.

The Caps' only loss in January came in a 3-2 overtime setback in Philadelphia on Jan. 8, but Trotz's club exacted revenge for that defeat with a 1-0 home win over the Flyers on Wednesday. It was Washington's third straight victory.

Braden Holtby recorded his 15th career shutout by stopping all 21 shots sent his way on Wednesday. It was Holtby's fourth shutout of the season in his 20th straight start between the pipes for the Caps.

Jason Chimera supplied the necessary offense early in the first period for the Capitals.

Holtby expects to get the call tonight and he won his only career outing against the Preds, stopping 34-of-36 shots in a 5-2 home victory on Dec. 7 of last season.

Justin Peters will give Holtby a rare rest on Saturday, when Washington visits the Dallas Stars.

Nashville, meanwhile, will be without its franchise goaltender for the next few weeks. Pekka Rinne, a candidate for the Hart and Vezina Trophies, is expected to be sidelined with a sprained knee until after the NHL's All-Star festivities, which takes place next weekend in Columbus.

Rinne has posted a 29-6-2 record in 37 games this season while sporting a 1.96 goals against average and .931 save percentage.

Carter Hutton, who is 0-3-2 with a 2.60 GAA in six games this season, will start tonight with AHL call-up Marek Mazanec serving as the backup.

Rinne stopped 20-of-21 shots on Tuesday before exiting Nashville's eventual 5-1 victory over Vancouver early in the third period. The Finnish netminder was knocked backwards into the end boards in a collision between Vancouver's Chris Higgins and defenseman Anton Volchenkov.

Hutton finished the final 17-plus minutes with 10 stops.

"They came right away, I didn't have much chance to get ready," said Hutton. "That's your job as a backup, always be ready to go out there at any minute of the game."

Colin Wilson registered a season high of four points thanks to two goals and two assists to help the Preds rout the visiting Canucks. Craig Smith, Filip Forsberg and Mike Fisher also tallied for Nashville, which has won four in a row and six of its last seven.

Nashville, which owns a four-point lead over Chicago for first place in the Central Division, is 17-2-1 as the host this season and is completing a brief two-game homestand tonight.

The Caps and Preds have split the last four meetings in this series, but Washington has claimed seven of nine overall. Nashville has taken the past two encounters at Bridgestone Arena.