“We played a good game 60 minutes tonight,” said Backstrom, who added to his team lead in goals (12) and points (34) in the win. “I think this is something we have to do every night, play like this, help out and skate like this. It was a good night for us. Hopefully we can build off of this.”
The Capitals improve to 5-5 under Coach Dale Hunter after what may have been their strongest overall outing since the coaching change was made on Nov. 28.
Washington came out at Verizon Center with an emphasis on strong physical play in the first period, allowing it to establish an early lead. The forecheck Hunter has emphasized for offense, along with cycling the puck down low and driving the net, were all evident from the earliest shifts of the contest as the Capitals sought to test Nashville backup netminder Anders Lindback (19 saves) early and often.
It would be that constant movement, accompanied by force in the offensive zone, that fueled the offense.
“When [teams] come out hitting just like that when we go on the road it kind of sets you back on your heels a little bit. I don’t think they expected it and then by doing that we surprised them,” Hunter said. “I liked the first period more than anything. We came out and took it to them instead of wait and see what happens.”
Ovechkin, who had already made his presence known with three big hits on his first two shifts, opened things up at 7 minutes 42 seconds of the first for his second goal in the past three games. Karl Alzner sent a long stretch pass from the Washington zone just inside the offensive blue line. Ovechkin picked it up and blazed toward the net for a wicked wrist shot that beat Lindback low, glove side for a 1-0 edge.
After seizing the early lead, the Capitals continued to control the contest. Matt Hendricks drew an unsportsmanlike misconduct call against Blake Geoffrion and the power play came dangerously close to adding to the lead when it took four shots on goal.
The Capitals extended the advantage to 2-0 with just over four minutes remaining in the first when Backstrom muscled his way through Jerred Smithson for a wraparound goal that caught Lindback unable to stop the stuff attempt.
With two goals in the first period the Capitals broke out of their slump after having scored just one in each of the past three contests. In addition to the offensive success, Washington did an equally strong job in its own end limiting the Predators to just four shots on Michal Neuvirth (20 saves) in the first.
“I think the energy that we have in the first period we have to keep at the same level,” Ovechkin said. “In the second period we took too many penalties and was not that good, almost stupid penalties, too many men on the ice in the offensive zone but penalty kill guys do a great job.”
Washington experienced a few lapses in the second as it was whistled for three penalties in just more than 13 minutes. But the penalty kill proved up to the task and didn’t allow the Predators much opportunity to set up or take shots. All told, the visitors recorded just three shots on goal in five chances with the man advantage. By thwarting Nashville, the Capitals’ penalty kill continues to improve, having weathered 40 of the past 45 trips to the box.
Sergei Kostitsyn put the Predators on the scoreboard 4:40 into the third but Semin would relieve the pressure near the halfway mark of the final frame to make it 3-1. With a sublime drop pass by Marcus Johansson, Semin stepped into a shot and rifled the puck past Lindback’s glove for his second goal in as many games with 10:21 elapsed.
Troy Brouwer tipped a point shot by Dennis Wideman on the power play at 13:46 for Washington’s fourth and final goal. By then, the Capitals had pulled Nashville out of its defensive shell and was able to dictate their own style of play on the game.
“Nashville’s a team that’s very defensive, they play their systems very well,” Brouwer said. “But if you can get out to a good lead on them it gets them out of their comfort zone and makes them take chances.”
Mike Knuble was honored prior to the contest, which marked his 1,000th career NHL game. He finished the night with no points in 10:07 of ice time. . . . Mike Green missed an 18th consecutive game with a strained right groin muscle. John Erskine was a healthy scratch.