Red Light District Returns for Caps Young Guns

December 20, 2011 | Ed Frankovic

Red Light District Returns for Caps Young Guns

“Your best players need to be your best players.”

You hear that saying from coaches a lot, but it is ultra true, and on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals, who used to live off of the efforts of their “Young Guns,” erupted for four goals in a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators. Alexander Oveckhin scored early on after a beautiful feed from Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom followed that up with a sweet wraparound goal, and then Alexander Semin tallied on a sick top shelf wrister after one of his patented gaffes led to Nashville’s only goal in the third period. Troy Browuer closed out the scoring on the power play with #19 right next to him in front of the Predators cage. Michal Neuvirth (20 saves) was outstanding in net and for once the Capitals could breathe easier down the stretch and not have to hang on for dear life in a one goal victory.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a win that improves the Caps to 17-14-1:

- This was a much needed offensive game for the Capitals after a pretty dismal display in Colorado on Saturday night. Washington can be very guilty of overhandling and overpassing of the puck but in the first period it was pretty clear that Coach Dale Hunter stressed the need to get the biscuit and bodies to the cage. The result was the Caps played their best first period in the Hunter era dominating a Predators team that is known for hard work and good defense. The shots were 11-4 for the good guys after the first frame and if not for some decent saves by Anders Lindback (19 saves total) this one would have been a blowout.

“I thought we came out well in the first period. We were ready to play and we took the play to them pretty good and we jumped on them early. We made a few mistakes in the third and gave up some scoring chances but I think the first set the tone for the game where the guys came out and played hard,” said Hunter.

- Solid coaching from Hunter tonight with his line combinations. #32 split up Ovechkin and Backstrom and that forced Predators Coach Barry Trotz to pick a line to play his top d-pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter against. Trotz chose the Backstrom-Semin-MJ90 unit and as a result Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, and Brouwer were able to go against a different defensive pairing. Alexander Ovechkin set the tone with his physical play and also credit coach Hunter for using the last change to his advantage and getting the Gr8 out against weaker d-man, John Blum, when he could. Ovechkin abused the young #7, who was recently recalled from the AHL, to spark his club. Alexander the Great had seven shots on goal in just over 15 minutes of ice time and he also had three hits.

“He’s a special player and he came out here scoring and hitting. He was a complete player tonight. Especially in the first [period], we needed a lift and he came out and played hard.”added Hunter.

“They {the Capitals} have two lines with {Nicklas} Backstrom and {Alexander} Semin and obviously the {Alex} Ovechkin line, so we’re pretty young on the back end and we had to split them {our defensemen} up tonight,” added the Predators coach, admitting that Hunter put him in a tough situation tactically, given Nashville’s defensive lineup.

- Neuvirth played his third straight game and appears to be regaining the form he had last season when he carried Washington in a lot of contests en route to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. #30 is saving over 92% of his shots while under Coach Hunter and will likely see the net again on Friday night in New Jersey. He had excellent positioning on Tuesday and did not allow many rebounds. He made several big stops, with one on Jordan Tootoo in the slot standing out in the third period. This is the kind of goaltending this club needs to get on a roll and gain confidence.

- One thing the Capitals have to improve on is their penchant for taking bad penalties. Washington was shorthanded five times and if not for some super penalty killing they could have lost the stranglehold they had on this contest at even strength. The infractions were as follows: too many men on the ice, a lazy boarding by Semin after he reached with his stick and got his skates tangled up with Tootoo, an Alzner puck over the glass for delay of game, a retaliatory cross check by Jason Chimera, and a careless slash by Joel Ward. Every one of those penalties did not take away a scoring chance for the Predators so they are BAD ones and show a lack of discipline. That needs to be cleaned up.

- Good things happen when you shoot the puck. In the second period Semin had a two on one rush with Marcus Johansson (two assists) and he tried to saucer a pass to MJ90 instead of firing away. In the final frame, after Semin turned the puck over at the blue line on the previous shift to allow the Preds to make it a one goal game, MJ90 gave Semin a beautiful drop pass and #28 fired off his back foot from a bad angle but it WENT IN. It was an incredible display of skill and it only shows that if he would just fire more we might see a return in production from him. In fact, the whole team needs to shoot more. Dennis Wideman’s simple power play blast that was batted home by Brouwer is another perfect example.

- So at the end of the night, Hunter’s Caps earned one of their better victories on the season. They came out hard, dictated the pace early on, and the Young Guns delivered. It was a game that gives hope of an offensive resurgence for this red light challenged team. The question now is can they keep it up and find some consistency or are they going to continue to be a one game on, one game off team? If they shoot the puck more, get to the opposing net with a passion, receive quality goaltending, and stay out of the penalty box then they will find themselves back near the top of the NHL standings. Easier said than done, though.

Notes: Mike Knuble was honored beforehand for his 1,000th NHL game. #22 played only 10:07 and didn’t attempt a shot on goal…Mike Green participated fully during the morning skate and appears close to a return. That would be a huge boost to this hockey team as the Caps are 8-0 when he plays…Jeff Schultz was the sixth defensemen and he didn’t look too good on one shift and barely played after that (6:01 total for the game)…Wideman led the Caps with 28:44 of ice time…Washington won the face-off battle, 35-23, after a subpar outing in Denver in that department on Saturday. Jeff Halpern, who played 18:05, was 14-5 from the dot.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Brian Says:

    Ed is Knuble really that bad that he has been dropped to the 4th line? He barely played and you could tell from his expressions on the bench he isn’t happy with only 10 minutes of ice time, I think he should be on the third line he’s deserved that much.

    (Note from Ed: 22 isn’t the fastest skater and Dale Hunter prefers guys who can skate so that is why his minutes are down.)

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