KNUBLE PLAYS IN 1,000th NHL GAME; FETED IN PRE-GAME CEREMONY
After scoring three goals in their last three games, the Washington Capitals needed to see an outburst like last night. Motivated by the pre-game ceremony celebrating teammate Mike Knuble’s 1,000th career NHL game, the Caps found some offensive motivation while shutting down the Nashville Predators, 4-1, before a capacity crowd at Verizon Center.
The Caps got goals from their three biggest names: Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin, plus a power play redirect from off-season trade acquisition Troy Brouwer, to pace the victory. Michal Neuvirth started his third game in a row, allowing a single tally to Sergei Kostitsyn early in the third, and made 20 saves to collect the win.
The story of this game was the first period, when the Caps jumped all over the Preds. Washington played a dominating cycle game for the first half-dozen shifts of the game, wearing down the traveling Nashville squad from the get-go. Midway through the stanza, Karl Alzner was able to spring Alex Ovechkin along the left wing boards with a stretch pass. Ovi used his body to shield the Predator defender from the puck, and once Ovi settled the puck on the other side, he was off to the races and buried the breakaway against Nashville backup Anders Lindback (19 saves).
Nick Backstrom added the second goal with just over four minutes remaining, carrying the puck along the end boards and wrapping one around the post to beat Lindback.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz certainly noticed the effort level of the Caps in the opening frame. “In the first period we lost a couple of one-on-one battles and they scored. They came out with a lot of purpose and a lot of jump and had us on our heels.”
The second period saw the Caps settle into a stifling trap, shutting down any semblance of a Nashville counter. Adding to the effort, the Caps killed all three penalties called against them in the frame. With the defensive effort, and penalty kill team on the ice for six minutes, the Caps managed just three shots on goal in the frame, but carried their two-goal advantage to the third.
Kostitsyn was able to halve the lead 4:40 into the third period with a wrist shot from the blue line that Neuvirth would probably like to have back, but Alexander Semin took a drop pass from Marcus Johansson six minutes later at the left wing circle and the right-handed Semin twisted his body and unleashed a wicked wrist shot past a stunned Lindback to stretch the lead again.
Troy Brouwer tacked on an insurance power play marker at 13:46, redirecting a blast from the point from Dennis Wideman.
The offensive fireworks marked the first time the Caps scored as many as four goals since their Dec. 9 win over Toronto. Brouwer’s power play goal was also their first with the extra-man since that game as well. That point is probably not a coincidence.
The win was big for a team struggling to adapt to a new system and maybe trying to establish a new identity, but it was also big to their senior member. Knuble didn’t factor in the scoring, but there’s no questioning his value to this team in terms of leadership and veteran presence. He becomes the second oldest player to play in his 1,000th game, behind only Grant Ledyard. He also becomes the sixth player to play his 1,000th game in a Capitals uniform, joining his coach, Dale Hunter (1993), along with Phil Housely (1996), Adam Oates (1999), Calle Johansson (2001) and Andrew Cassels (2006).
CAPS NOTES: Marcus Johansson has two assists and played in his 100th NHL game.
Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on goal and tied with Dmitry Orlov with three hits.
Backstrom scores his 12th of the season, and has 99 goals in his NHL career.
Semin scored his seventh goal of the season and his second in as many games, marking the first time this season he’s scored in back-to-back games.
The win gives the Caps 35 points this season, seven behind division-leading Florida, though Washington has just one fewer win and two games in hand over the Panthers. The Caps are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Ottawa Senators, who also have two games in hand over the Caps.