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Bottom line: Capitals need more from their top one

The Islanders' Andrew MacDonald, left prevents the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, center, from shooting against New York goalie Dwayne Roloson. Ovechkin shares the team lead in scoring after eight games. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
The Islanders' Andrew MacDonald, left prevents the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, center, from shooting against New York goalie Dwayne Roloson. Ovechkin shares the team lead in scoring after eight games. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

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By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 12:01 AM

Mike Knuble won't mince words. He's frustrated that he and linemates Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom haven't managed to finish their scoring chances much through the season's first eight games.

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The Washington Capitals' top line has had plenty of opportunities; the three have combined for 83 shots. But so far, they haven't delivered. Some chances have been foiled by brilliant saves by opposing goaltenders; other have ended in fluky shots that ricocheted off goalposts or sticks.

Of all the questions surrounding the Capitals entering the season, few expected that, as the team embarks on its first extended trip of the season, scoring from their top line would be one. Beginning Wednesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes (4-3), the Capitals (5-3) play three games in three time zones in four days, focused on getting their offense back up to its usual standard.

"You get frustrated and you get [ticked] off because you feel like you're letting the guys down. It's our job to score goals and we're not doing it," said Knuble, who hasn't scored a point in the past six games. "You figure it's early in the season, but you don't want to let things like this go too long. It hasn't cost us too much yet, but we've been lucky that other guys have been carrying the team."

Combined, the members of the Capitals' top line have 14 points and a minus-7 rating. Through the first eight games of last season, they had 33 points and a plus-21 rating.

Ovechkin, who has faced numerous defensive tactics throughout his career, said that while much of the answer is maintaining pressure and creating chances until a breakthrough is achieved, he and Backstrom have seen a new level of shadowing from opponents in these early contests.

"Especially against our line, one guy is always chasing me or Backie all the time," said Ovechkin, who is tied for the Capitals' scoring lead with eight points (four goals, four assists). "So we always have two guys in the corner against us and one in front, and sometimes it's pretty hard to beat.

"But we talk a lot about just needing to move the puck quick. I think our line is one of the best lines in the league, and I hope we're going to score goals as soon as possible and feel better."

The Capitals' power play continues to struggle at 4 for 34 (11.8 percent), and Ovechkin is among many who stress the importance of defenseman Mike Green, who missed three games because of a shoulder injury. Green was limited in his return from the injury Saturday, but he still ran much of Washington's power play from the point in the 4-3 overtime victory over Atlanta and appeared to help despite a scoreless effort.

When he was sidelined, Green got a good look at the problems with the man-advantage. In practice Tuesday, Green held court among his teammates in between working on various power-play setups.

"It's just execution, I think. When we do the proper assignments, what's drawn up, it works," said Green, who said he'll see how he feels at Wednesday's morning skate before determining how much he can play against the Hurricanes. "When we stray away from it, we get kind of confused of where to be and what to do, and it gets hard for us to score goals. We need to gather as a group and get this under control. . . . Once we do, we'll get a little pressure off [our] backs and can just play."

Capitals notes: Coach Bruce Boudreau said Michal Neuvirth is expected to start against the Hurricanes. . . . Washington recalled defenseman Brian Fahey from the AHL's Hershey Bears. . . . Tom Poti (lower-body injury) will not make the trip to Carolina.


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