Mike Knuble gets stuffed by Boston goalie Tim Thomas. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
While the Capitals' top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble has created its share of offensive chances and combined for 14 points (6 goals 8 assists) through the first six games of the year, the group isn't firing on all cylinders quite yet.
"They're going to always create chances no matter who they play, but I can tell when they're on top of their game, and they're slightly missing," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I don't know how to describe it, but I've been with Nick for over three years now and I know when he's on top of his game what's going to happen, and when Alex is on top of his game what's going to happen. Whether it's body language or the look in their eye or the way they're handling themselves. Mike Knuble, whether he scores goals or he doesn't, seems to be doing the same thing every day. [It] doesn't look like he's slowed down at all; he's just a battler and his goals will come."
Whether that's a product of the trio getting re-acclimated to each other at the beginning of the season, the efforts of opposing defenses and lines against them or a combination of the two, Boudreau knows the pace will pick up and doesn't worry about his top line's ability to succeed together.
"I'm not worried about them as a line, of course," Boudreau said. "They're one of the best lines in the league and I guarantee when teams are talking about our team, they're talking about that line."
As Boudreau pointed out, Backstrom's tendency is to start a little slow while Ovechkin's is to kick off the year with a strong offensive showing. Through the first 10 games of the the 2009-10 season, Ovechkin tallied nine goals and eight assists while Backstrom had two goals and nine assists, but was held without a point in six contests.
"It's alright so far, but we can be way better, I think," said Backstrom, who enters tonight's game with four points (1G, 3A). "I think we have to crash the net a little bit more and maybe we have to pass the puck a little bit more. We had our chances, but the puck has just been bouncing and hopefully it's going to bounce our way soon."
Against the Bruins on Tuesday, the top line was on the ice for both of the Bruins' first goals. Another minus-2 finish isn't something that any member of that group wants to relive at the Garden tonight.
"They outplayed us. That's all there is," Mike Knuble said. "We want to try to even it back up this time."