Mike Knuble didn’t record a goal or an assist. He didn’t have a plus-rating and wasn’t on the ice for a goal — or even that long.
But the right wing playing his 1,000th career NHL game had a lot to do with the Washington Capitals’ 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night. A pregame ceremony that featured a video tribute and plenty of sentimental energy throughout Verizon Center gave the Caps some serious spark and intensity to start the game.
“They had a good jump,” coach Dale Hunter said. “With Knubs’ big night, they were ready to go and they wanted to win the game for him.”
The Caps wore No. 22 jerseys in warm-ups and Knuble’s wife and children joined him on the ice for the honors, which included gifts of a Tiffany crystal, a silver stick and a gift certificate for a Sea-Doo watercraft.
“It’s a very flattering moment,” Knuble said. “But I’m glad to see it carried over to the game — we came out pretty well. It was a great win for us tonight.”
It’s something that had been lacking for much of the past month or so, but Alex Ovechkin and Co. came out flying. The captain had two hits right out of the gate as the Caps took it to a Nashville team known for its toughness and work ethic.
It was a big help that the Caps imposed some physicality early, and just 7:42 in, Karl Alzner found Ovechkin with a gorgeous stretch pass that the Russian winger turned into his 11th goal of the season by burning Jonathon Blum and beating Anders Lindback low to the goalie’s glove side.
It was vintage Ovechkin on a night he had perhaps his best all-around game of the season despite scoring just one goal.
“He’s a special player. He came out here hitting and scoring and passing the puck,” Hunter said. “He was a complete player tonight.”
With the Caps pressing so hard in the first, the Predators couldn’t get any momentum. Nicklas Backstrom scored at the 15:51 mark to make it 2-0 and the Caps were rolling toward what was their most complete game since Hunter took over Nov. 28. Alexander Semin scored later to pretty much seal it, making this the first game since Oct. 30, 2010 that he, Ovechkin and Backstrom all scored on the same night.
Sometimes pregame ceremonies have the reverse effect, as guys need time to find their legs after sitting on the bench well after warm-ups. But given Knuble’s value to the team and the poignant nature of just about every part, it was no surprise the Caps got a jump.
“It was pretty special, I think, for everybody. Actually I was excited the whole day about Knubs and I felt pretty good the whole day,” said goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who finished with 20 saves. “What a good team effort for a big win.”