There have been several mutations of the Capitals’ fourth line already this season, but the group assembled for Friday night’s win in Carolina has a certain uniform sandpaper-grit to it that boded well in Washington’s favor.
The unit of Matt Hendricks, Jeff Halpern and Mike Knuble helped serve as catalysts for Washington’s 5-1 victory against the Hurricanes. They manufactured consistent offensive zone pressure, helped keep the Capitals in it after they fell behind with a bit of a slow start and combined for the goal that tied the game at 1-1 early in the second period.
“I think our first responsibility is be really good in our own end and I think we were that,” said Knuble, who finished with an assist and a plus-1 rating in 15:40 of ice time. “We didn’t spend a ton of time in our own end at all, offensively we cycled it around made it look good a little bit we were able to chip in one but that’s a good night for us.”
Individually, all three complemented the other two thirds of the line stating that the reason they were able to gain traction in their first game together was simply because they share some of the same qualities from hustle to willingness to crash the net and make something out of nothing when it comes to a play in the offensive zone.
“I think the simplicity of our line actually benefits [us],” Hendricks said. “You’ve probably heard me say it before, playing with Knubes and Halpy we know what each other are going to do with the puck before we even get it. It’s all about the grittiness and working hard down in the corners and get some opportunities going to the net.”
Halpern’s goal, his first of the year, came off a hard-working shift by all three. Hendricks started things off by pursuing and tying up Joni Pitkanen down below the goal line to force the Carolina defenseman to give up the puck to Halpern, who played it up to Alzner on the right point. Alzner threw the puck off the end boards and it bounced to Knuble in his usual stomping grounds less than 10 feet away from the net.
Knuble’s first shot hit the post, before he could get a second shot off the puck floated out to the slot where Halpern scrambled and was able to reach the puck to knock it in the net as he was being tripped. As the puck crossed the line, Carolina goaltender Cam Ward was still too busy tied up on the opposite side of the net with Hendricks and Knuble.
“I was pretty nervous the first couple shifts, first two or three shifts and then I felt we got a couple where we were able to lean on them in their end,” Halpern said. “Hendy’s so good at getting on pucks, but not just getting on them but holding on to it. Knubes is able to create offense off of being pinned against the board and creating cycles that way and he draws guys to him. I think once we got a little comfortable it was fun to play.”