By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Two days after appearing rusty and out of sync in the home preseason opener, the Washington Capitals' stars looked to be in midseason form against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Alex Ovechkin notched his first two goals of the exhibition season, Mike Knuble chipped in with two more and goaltender Semyon Varlamov was good when he had to be in a thorough 6-2 victory at Verizon Center.
"Second game under our belt, third for others, we've got our stride now, I think," Captain Chris Clark said.
Almost as important as Washington's top players finding their groove -- Nicklas Backstrom also scored and Alexander Semin had three assists -- was the power play's dominant performance. After looking particularly sloppy in Monday's loss to the Buffalo Sabres, going 0 for 5 with only three shots on goal, the power play struck three times on six opportunities, including one on a lengthy two-man advantage.
Coach Bruce Boudreau also liked what he saw from his retooled top line. On Monday, the unit consisted of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Knuble. Against the Blackhawks, however, Boudreau opted for the high-risk, high-reward trio of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin. The line combined for one goal at even strength and another on the power play.
"Those guys were a lot better today, meaning Alex, Alex and Nicky," Boudreau said. "When they're good, they're pretty fun to watch. They're a line that I don't think will stay together for 82 games, but when they're on and not just looking for each other to be fancy, they're a pretty unique, skilled line."
Varlamov, meantime, stated another strong case for starting the season on the Capitals' opening night roster, if not as the team's No. 1 goalie. He's won both of his starts and has stopped 46 of 51 shots, including all 13 he saw in the third period.
"I have got to believe Varly has a good chance of being here," Boudreau said. "He played really well. In the third period, he kept us in. He made some big saves and controlled the rebound."
Boudreau also said Quintin Laing helped his cause with a solid performance on the fourth line. He received the second-most short-handed ice time among Washington's forwards (3 minutes 54 seconds) and blocked two shots.
"He's giving it a good chance to make the team," Boudreau said. "He never complains. After the last game, he had a little twinge. I asked him, 'Are you okay?' He said, 'I'll play, I'll play.' "
Knuble opened the scoring with his second goal of the preseason that went in off his leg. Knuble crashed Chicago's net and a rebound went off of his leg and beat Corey Crawford (24 saves) to put Washington ahead, 1-0, only 2:36 into the game.
"Coaches love that," Boudreau said. "It's an element we haven't seen around Washington in a while."
Knuble, who was wearing the alternate captain's "A" on his jersey for the first time as a Capital, made a nifty move around Patrick Sharp before scoring moments later on the power play to put the Capitals in control.
Ovechkin broke the game open early in the second with a pair of goals 95 seconds apart.
One of the more intriguing storylines of the day involved the only Capitals' veteran who has yet to see the ice this preseason. Michael Nylander, a player who has fallen out of favor with Boudreau and management, missed his fourth consecutive game and said he has not been told why the team is not playing him.
"He's here, but we're looking at other guys," Boudreau said when asked about Nylander's status.
Nylander said he'll continue to prepare as if he's going to play. "I just know I feel good," he said as he tied his skates before Tuesday's practice. "That's all I can control."
Capitals Notes: Forward Chris Bourque did not practice for the second consecutive day after receiving a vicious high hit in the third period on Monday. Bourque said he does not have a concussion and is feeling much better, but he isn't sure when he'll be cleared to return. . . . Boudreau on reassigning former first-round draft pick John Carlson to the minor leagues: "I just think he needed more time, I told him [Tuesday], 'You're going to be a great NHL player.' " . . . Tom Poti was assessed three minor penalties. Defenseman Tyler Sloan blocked four shots.