By Adam Vingan
Tuesday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators began with a celebration of Mike Knuble’s career. A video presentation highlighted Knuble’s tenure in Washington, which began three years ago. Coincidentally, the Caps’ performance in a 4-1 win definitely harked back to those high-flying days of old.
In the first period, the Caps were aggressive in the offensive zone. Anders Lindback was a 6’6″ sitting duck as Washington fired 12 shots in his direction (seven of which were either missed or blocked) within the first six-plus minutes of the game. The thirteenth shot attempt was Alex Ovechkin’s vintage breakaway goal, one that saw him seal off Jonathan Blum, spin around him and cut right to the net. Nicklas Backstrom added to the Caps’ lead with an impressive wraparound goal that had Jerred Smithson hanging on for dear life behind the net.
“I thought we came out well in the first period,” head coach Dale Hunter said. “We were ready to play. We took the play to them pretty good and we jumped on them early.”
In the third period, the Caps put the Predators away when Alexander Semin finished Marcus Johansson’s drop pass with a curl-and-drag snap shot that beat Lindback top shelf, marking the first time since last October 30 that Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin scored in the same game. Add to that a Troy Brouwer deflection goal on the power play and it was definitely a classic night in Washington.
The Caps’ performance against the Predators Tuesday was a far cry from their 3-1 loss to the same team November 15. After a 55-minute defensive struggle, Brouwer broke through to give Washington a 1-0 lead, but it lasted all of 28 seconds before Nashville scored three unanswered goals in just under four minutes to earn the victory.
That game was one of Bruce Boudreau’s final games behind the Caps’ bench, but flashes of his early days appeared Tuesday as all four goals were scored in highlight reel fashion (four goals in general was something to behold, considering the Caps had a total of three in their last three games). Yet, despite the Boudreau-esque offensive performance, Hunter’s influence could be seen as well. The Caps started the game with aggressive forechecking and strong cycling in the offensive zone. Washington also held Nashville without a shot for the first 7:32 (the rebound of said shot actually started the break that led to Ovechkin’s goal) and allowed only 21 total.
In the second period, the Caps only had three shots on goal as they favored the trap to keep the Predators pinned down while also killing three penalties (the penalty kill was a perfect 5/5). In the third, the Caps – as they’ve been known to do under Hunter – did not record a shot on goal until later in the third period with the first shot of Tuesday’s third period coming at the 14:03 mark, which came after Sergei Kostitsyn’s goal that made it a 2-1 game.
Regardless, Tuesday’s game proved that it is possible for Washington to combine the high-tempo and highly-skilled offensive game that they patented years ago with the new, defensively-responsible system that its new coach has implemented.
“I think we want to dictate our game and we want to dictate our style and this system, so it was pretty cool,” Ovechkin said. “I think all the team played together today. We played hard and I think we deserved to win.”