Caps Top Predators, 4-1

Photo courtesy of bridgetds
Mike Knuble has played 1,000 NHL games.
courtesy of bridgetds

The Capitals honored 39-year-old Mike Knuble last night for playing in 1,000 NHL games, then went out and earned a hard fought 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators before a festive crowd at Verizon Center last night. Riding goals from marquee players Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin along with some timely saves by goalie Michal Neuvirth, the Caps played as complete a game as we have seen under new coach Dale Hunter.

The Caps put on an offensive clinic to start the game, pressuring the Predators and recording the first seven shots of the game. Nashville did not control the puck in the Washington end of the ice until more than five minutes of the game had elapsed. The Caps lit the lamp first when Karl Alzner sprung Alex Ovechkin for a break away. Ovechkin beat Nashville goalie Anders Lindback with a quick-release wrist shot to the lower corner. Minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom made it 2-0 when he out-muscled Nashville’s Jerred Smithson behind the net, then wrapped it wide around the net to beat Lindback to the far side.

In any hockey there will be momentum shifts. The Caps discipline broke down early in the second period as they took successive penalties for too many men on the ice and delay of game. By the middle of the second period the momentum was clearly with the Predators. The Caps withstood an onslaught from Nashville, battling through six minutes on the penalty kill.

Photo courtesy of clydeorama
Neuvrith Before Faceoff
courtesy of clydeorama

During one stretch of the second and early third period, the Caps managed only one shot on goal over a 20 minute stretch. But the defense stood firm, forcing Nashville to the outside and blocking shots, and Neuvirth made key saves when needed. The Predators finally broke through with a goal on an odd-man rush to bring the score to 2-1. They nearly scored again when David Legwand was all alone with the puck in front of Caps’ goal, but Neuvirth stayed with it for the save.

The game hung in the balance. Then Semin struck to change the tide again.

Semin took a drop pass from Marcus Johansson, wheeled into the left circle and unleashed a jaw-dropping shot to the farthest upper corner of the net. The goal was all the more amazing for being so unexpected. As a right shot turning to his right, and with his weight on his back leg, Semin appeared to be in a disadvantageous position to shoot hard. As he swept the puck toward himself to go around Nashville captain Shea Weber, Semin made a seemingly effortless flick of the wrists toward the goal. Lindback appeared to be stunned by the shot and barely moved when the puck went flying past him.

The crowd went wild and the Caps bench rallied. Three minutes later Troy Brower sealed the victory with a power play deflection of a Dennis Wideman slapshot from the point.

Game Notes

  • To celebrate his 1,000th NHL game Mike Knuble was presented a silver hockey stick by GM George McPhee. For a good review of Knuble’s career, check out his recent interview with Mike Vogel.
  • Coach Dale Hunter experimented with new line combinations, putting Ovechkin with Brooks Laich and Troy Brower to form a rugged top unit. The second line of Johansson, Backstrom and Semin dazzled the crowd all evening with sublime passing. Both lines scored two goals so the early results look very positive.
  • Matt Hendricks showed some poise. After delivering a couple of hard hits, he stood steely-eyed as Blake Geoffrion dropped his gloves to try to mix it up with Hendricks. Matty didn’t take the bait and the Caps earned a power play.

The Caps are on the road Friday against the New Jersey Devils and then travel to Buffalo next Monday to face the Sabres. Their next home game is Wednesday, December 28 against the New York Rangers.

Will Packard

Will moved to DC 33 years ago to go to college and never left. By day he is the director of finance at an interactive marketing agency near Dupont Circle. When not hanging out at Kettler Iceplex or Verizon Center, he can often be found out rowing on the Potomac River or searching for the perfect burrito.

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