By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—The Washington Capitals are built around youth, but it was the team’s two eldest statesman that led them to victory Thursday night.
Mike Knuble and Scott Walker each tallied twice as the Capitals fended off a late surge by the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning and held on for a 5-4 win in front of a sold out crowd at Verizon Center.
Knuble tallied twice 6:04 apart in the second period, his 24th and 25th goals of the season to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead while Walker; acquired Wednesday afternoon just before the NHL trade deadline, scored both of his goals 1:58 apart in the third period; the last providing the final margin of victory.
“I thought of that on the bench,” said a jovial Knuble. “We checked the stats on each other to see who was older. I thought he was older, so George has to bring someone else in so I’m not the old guy.”
Walker’s first goal appeared to give the Capitals a comfortable two goal lead at 10:11 of the third, but the Capitals relaxed and allowed the Lightning to tally twice 1:53 apart on goals by Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos to tie the game at 4.
The lapse allowed Walker to be the hero in his debut. Known for having a knack for scoring timely goals, Walker shook off two members of the Lightning, deflected Mike Green’s point shot and dove to push the puck between Lightning netminder Mike Smiths’ legs at 13:09.
“I’m not the biggest guy in the world, so I try to cycle the puck as much as can,” said Walker of the elusiveness of his two goals. “My line mates, I think, did a great job to get it back to the point. You got to get [the puck] back to guys like Greenie who can shoot. He puts the puck in play all the time and that helps.”
Capitals’ Coach Bruce Boudreau noted Walker’s knack for scoring timely goals before Wednesday’s game in Buffalo, and reiterated that fact again Thursday night.
“His history has been right place at the right time or the right hit,” said Boudreau. “Sometimes you look around the league at the trades and guys that are scoring in their first game are big game players.”
Though he remained humble, Walker did say it was nice to get his first goal as a Capital out of the way.
“You like to chip in where you can, and it definitely makes you feel good,” said Walker. “It’s nice to help out, but the two points is what I’m looking for here every night.”
Thursday’s game was also the debut for Eric Belanger and Joe Corvo, also acquired Wednesday. Belanger, who skated with Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann finished with 14:50 of ice time while Corvo, who skated with Tom Poti, finished with 20:19 of ice time.
The debuts’ forced Boudreau to scratch fourth line regulars David Steckel and Matt Bradley as well as John Erkskine, who usually skates with Poti.
Boudreau said he hopes the moves won’t have any long term ramifications in regards to chemistry.
“The biggest fear as a coach is hoping they meld as a unit and as individuals off the ice so that if one of them is not playing they want to play and as a teammate you’re hoping that they’re supportive,” said Boudreau. “This has to happen because we can’t send anyone back down and we can’t call anyone up.”
Erich Fehr got the scoring started at 6:10 of the first period on a beautiful snap shot from the top of the left circle. Fehr skated into the zone, and while waiting for one of his line mates to come open snapped a shot that deflected off Smith’s glove and in to the net.
Steve Downie tied the game 5:45 later on a beautiful deflection of Kurtis Foster’s point shot on the power play that went right between Semyon Varlamovs’ legs.
After Knuble stretched the Capitals lead to two in the second period, Lecavalier scored his first goal, also on the power play, on a wrist shot from the mid slot that beat Varlamov low to the blocker side.
The Capitals got themselves in trouble shortly after as Mike Green, Brooks Laich and Tom Poti were each whistled for penalties in a 56 second span.
With the Lightnings’ Victor Hedman also in the box, the Lightning enjoyed an extended 4 on 3 power play, but were unable to take advantage as Nicklas Backstrom, playing without his stick, blocked two shots in succession.
“I don’t know how many other superstars in the league would be doing that on a 4 on 3 which is what makes him special, but it was definitely a turning point,” said Boudreau. “If we let up and they had scored one early when nick was out there then all of a sudden they have a 4 on 3 again they could’ve gotten the lead and it’s a whole different story playing from behind then playing with the lead.”