Pens To Pay Attention to Caps' KnublePosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
There was no shortage of news emanating from Consol Energy Center this morning as the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins took the ice for their morning skate tune-up leading into tonight’s renewal of the fierce rivalry between the two old Patrick Division foes. More than nine months after he last suited up for an NHL game, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was cleared for contact this morning. He skated some line rushes with teammates Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke and also took some reps on the power play. Sidelined for the better part of a calendar year with a concussion sustained in early January, it was great to see Crosby on the ice and taking another significant step towards and eventual return to live action. Pens center Evgeni Malkin has missed the team’s last two games, but he also participated in the morning skate and looked none the worse for wear to us media types. According to both Malkin and Pens coach Dan Bylsma, his possible presence in the Penguins’ lineup tonight will be a game-time decision. Prior to the Pens’ skate, injured Pittsburgh blueliner Brooks Orpik took some twirls around the sheet. There is still no timetable for his return. Also, the Penguins inked winger Chris Kunitz to a two-year contract extension. On the Washington side, goaltender Braden Holtby was summoned from AHL Hershey to serve as a back-up tonight for Tomas Vokoun. Michal Neuvirth didn’t travel with the Caps to the Steel City; he is day-to-day with a lower body injury. It may be Oct. 13 and very early in what is a long season, but even an early-season game between these two teams gets the blood flowing – and sometimes boiling – in both locker rooms. “I think it would be the same,” says Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang. “Honestly, the mindset is always the same against these guys. We know they don’t like us and we don’t like them, either. It’s always [like] a playoff game. There is a lot of intensity; it’s a really physical game. Obviously, all the guys bring their best against these guys every night. It makes for a really good game.” On the coaching and strategy side of things, Byslma was asked about the need to contain Caps winger Mike Knuble, who has scored 30 of his 268 career NHL goals at Pittsburgh’s expense. That’s 10 more than he has scored against any other club in the league. “I appreciate the reminders of Mike Knuble’s positive play against us,” says Bylsma. “I think he’s scored or been on the scoresheet every game but one in the last couple of years. He’s been a factor and a guy that goes under the radar and maybe hurts us most. “Yeah, we’ll have a focus on match-ups in this game. But I think three guys in particular will be given that match-up, not just one pairing. Kris Letang with [Paul] Martin and [Zbynek] Michalek, and depending on the situation and if there are power plays or penalty kills it might be a combination of those guys. But there will be a focus there. “I think the difficult part and the problem Mike has given us is that he’s on the inside giving us the problem. He’s the guy around the net and at the net. You might focus on [Alex Ovechkin]. You may focus on some other players, and you may focus on the power play [Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin], but [Knuble] has been the guy at the net that has hurt us the most. And it has usually been right at the net. “That’s something we have to be aware of and do a better job of because he has been the guy who has really scored a big goal and been at the net. And if he’s not scoring the goal, he’s been the guy who has got our goalie back in the crease while one of the more skilled guys is putting it in the net. “So there will be a match-up and there will certainly be a focus on what their strengths are, and [Knuble] is a part of that as well. IT pains me to say that because he is from Grand Rapids [Mich.] with me an a longtime friend, so it pains me [to be reminded].” During his two seasons with the Capitals, Knuble has been a particularly effective Penguin killer. He has seven goals and 10 points in eight games against the Pens while sporting a Washington sweater. Jay Beagle will be back in the lineup for Washington tonight while forwards Mathieu Perreault and D.J. King watch from above. Beagle has played more games against the Pens than any other team and his size and style are well suited for the games between these two clubs. Beagle has skated in eight games against Pittsburgh – including the playoffs – of the 46 in which he has played in the NHL.
Tomorrow night the Caps take to the ice at Verizon Center to take aim on just the third 4-0 start in franchise history. With three overtime or shootout decisions in their first three games, the Caps are still far from being at their best, but they're also still 3-0. A couple of quick indicators