By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 12:34 AM
Mike Knuble was pursuing a puck along the boards in front of the Washington Capitals' bench midway through the third period of Friday night's preseason tilt when Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Nick Holden came hard through the neutral zone and hit the veteran right wing in the head and shoulder.
Before Holden took three strides, Alex Ovechkin confronted him and pushed him back into the boards, sparking a dust-up with Knuble, Mike Green and two more Blue Jackets. Ovechkin received a standing ovation from the crowd of 17,496 at Verizon Center as he was escorted to the penalty box for the latest instance of the Capitals coming to the aid of a teammate in distress or righting a perceived wrong this preseason.
"It doesn't matter if it's preseason or not, we have to stay together like a team," said Ovechkin, who recorded three assists in the game and four penalty minutes for his part in the fracas. "If it's something done wrong we're going to stand up for each other."
Ovechkin was hardly the only Capitals player to stand up for another in Washington's 5-3 win over Columbus, which improved Washington's preseason record to 5-0.
After Hendricks fell hard to the ice, defenseman Tyler Sloan challenged and started a brief scrap with Guenin. Hendricks, who defended Ovechkin in Wednesday's game when he fought Boston's Gregory Campbell for a previous hit on Washington's captain, did not return to the contest as a precaution.
In the third period, while Ovechkin was in the penalty box, John Erskine was tripped and hit while lying on the ice, prompting the other four Capitals on the ice to come to his assistance on the near boards.
"I loved the way we responded," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "There was a couple really borderline hits, I think, on their part, but [we took care of it] without it getting out of hand. . . . I'm glad the way we stood up for each other. It all started with Hendricks standing up for Ovie from the Boston thing, so that's a good sign for the future, I hope."
While the game proved to be a demonstration in the Capitals' collective toughness, it also included some of the glaring inconsistencies that are telltale signs of the preseason: missed defensive assignments and odd-man rushes allowed to a Columbus team that didn't dress its top three forward lines.
It didn't help that after Hendricks was knocked out of the game, Boudreau was forced to juggle line combinations and use nearly every possible mix by the end of regulation.
"The analogy I used [when talking to the team was] I felt like an alcoholic tonight," Boudreau said. "For two weeks we were doing so great defending, not giving up two-on-ones, and then we fell off the wagon in the first period and started playing that river hockey again. We'll have to get back to our regular game [Saturday] in practice."
Capitals notes: Michal Neuvirth stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced in his second full game of the preseason. . . .
The Capitals must cut their roster to the league-mandated maximum of 23 players by Wednesday. They are carrying 28 players.