WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 20: Nicklas Backstrom #19 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with his teammates after scoring a game against the Nashville Predators during the first period at Verizon Center on December 20, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Mike Knuble has made a career out of skating alongside superstar talent and making them better. It's how he became a mainstay in the League, and it's how he got to 1000 games (and counting).
So it was somehow fitting that on a night where he was honored for hitting the big 1-0-0-0, his young teammates that he's mentored the past few years would take over and get the win for the big guy.
Ten more notes (give or take four) on the game:
- Coming out of the gate strong hasn't exactly been a strong suit for this year's Caps. Tonight, however, fresh off the celebratory ceremony for Knuble, the Caps strung together a series of excellent shifts to start the game on the right foot. They got the crowd into it early, then proceeded to keep them in it right up to the intermission with two first-period tallies.
- One of those goals came courtesy of Alex Ovechkin, who picked up a great break-out pass by Karl Alzner, blew by Jonathon Blum and slid the puck past Anders Lindback. Of note on that play? No Shea Weber on the ice at the time, which is probably how Ovechkin gets so open and was able to tie the team lead with eleven goals.
- Not for long, though as just about eight minutes later Nicklas Backstrom took that goal-scoring lead right back with his twelfth goal of the year. The way he scored it was simply his strength on display, as he maintained control of the puck while outmuscling a defender and skating around the net. Add in an assist and 55% of his draws won and that's a good night for #19.
- Good decision-making by Matt Hendricks in the first period, when Blake Geoffrion took exception to a clean hit by Hendricks in front of the Nashville bench and tried to get him to fight. Hendricks refused, the Caps got a power play and the momentum shift that could have resulted from that fight - with the Caps up 1-0 and controlling play at the time - might have changed this game drastically.
- Riding the hot hand, Hunter elected to once again go with Michal Neuvirth in net - and he wouldn't regret that decision, as Neuvirth was again stellar between the pipes (including making some incredible saves late in the game). He turned aside twenty of twenty-one shots and seems no worse for wear after giving up that one fluky goal against the Avs; in his last three starts he's posted a save percentage of .960, a GAA of 1.01 and one shutout.
- After a lackluster performance in Colorado, Head Coach Dale Hunter did what most coaches do when things go wrong: he shuffled the lines. And while they raised some eyebrows at first, it's hard to deny that some of the changes seemed to work right away - among them, moving Marcus Johansson to the wing alongside Backstrom and Semin and shifting Ovechkin to the right wing with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer. By doing so he got some of his big guns away from what is easily one of the League's best defensive duos in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, guys who always give this Caps team fits.
- The Caps had a comfortable two-goal lead in the third period when Alexander Semin made the mistake of failing to dump the puck in on a change, leading to Nashville's lone tally. As is his way, though, he turned those curses into...well, happier curses, when his absolutely blistering shot over Lindback's shoulder gave the Caps back their cushion about six minutes later. By the way, with that goal he officially has his first two-game goal-scoring streak of the season, if you can beli-...yeah, you probably can.
- Sure as the sun rises in the east, there isn't anyone better at the slick, subtle, crossover drop-pass than Marcus Johansson. Bet on it.
- Karl Alzner's pass to spring Ovechkin on the breakaway in the first wasn't just a great assist - it was also his ninth assist and tenth point of the season. All of a sudden King Karl, who isn't supposed to chip in on offense, is just one assist and two points shy of his entire total from last season - both of which were career highs at the time. (H/t @capsmedia)
- Not to be outdone, Roman Hamrlik picked up his first assist as a Cap on Backstrom's goal in the first period. And it only took him 28 games, too! Well done, Hamr.
- Undisciplined play (including some penalties that can be real killers like too many men and delay of game) put the Caps shorthanded five times tonight - but the penalty killers were up to the task, rendering Nashville's blazing hot power play completely ineffective and killing off all five. And with a power play goal serving as icing on the cake, it was quite a nice night overall for the Caps' special teams.
- Back when Hunter first took over as coach, Brooks Laich noted that one of the differences in Hunter's coaching style was in the line-matching, meaning guys had to be a bit more alert on the bench than they maybe had to be in the past and that it would take some adjustment. So it's not surprising that the Caps have been dinged for quite a few "Too Many Men" penalties under their new bench boss, including another one tonight. Adjust faster, boys.
- Last time the Caps got goals by Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin in the same game? Try October 30, 2010. So yeah...it's been awhile.
- Even without the win it would have been an impressive milestone, but we're betting the two points makes tonight extra sweet - so congratulations to Mike Knuble on his 1000th career game, and counting! (And not to be outdone, a hearty congrats to Johansson on his 100th career game - a tenth of the way there, way to go MoJo.)
So the Caps pick up a crucial two points in the standings, looking pretty good overall and celebrating a milestone night in style. And while there was a lot to like about the performance, the real test for this team comes in what they do after the win - namely, can they add another one, and maybe another one after that, to get off the rollercoaster and on the consistency train? Time will tell.