Evgeny Kuzentsov had his Capitals coming out party in last year’s playoff series against the New York Islanders. After notching six points in six games (all assists) so far this season, Kuzya had his regular season coming out party on Friday night on the speedy Rexall Place ice scoring a hat trick and adding two helpers for a five point night in a 7-4 Caps victory.
Seriously, this kid looks scary good and his ability to carry the puck and make sensational one on one moves is incredible. In a game that typically the Caps would come out tired, since they played in Vancouver on Thursday night, the Washington TKO line (T.J. Oshie, Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin) put the Caps on the board just 3:05 into the contest on a tic-tac-toe passing play.
That goal gave the Capitals energy and then they and Edmonton put on a 1980’s style track meet hockey clinic trading goals until Kuznetsov gathered an outlet pass from John Carlson (3 assists) and raced in on Anders Nilsson and absolutely abused him via the five hole, to make it 4-3 with 33+ minutes still to play.
Washington talked in the off season about developing a killer instinct and Coach Barry Trotz’ crew displayed that on Friday night tallying two more times in succession, including Justin Williams first goal as a Capital, to make it 6-3 with just over eight minutes remaining in the middle frame.
Edmonton would cut it to 6-4 with 5:18 to go in the second period when Philipp Grubauer was off of the post and too deep in his net on a two on two rush. The Oilers goal was a softie off of the stick of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
At that point an Oilers comeback seemed in the cards with a tired Caps team playing in front of their backup goalie. In the past, things might have gotten hairy, but not with this team. The Capitals did an outstanding job of clamping down Edmonton over the last 25 minutes, especially in period three when the Oilers only mustered five shots on goal. Connor McDavid (goal, assist) and company also had 3:51 of power play time and couldn’t really generate any quality scoring chances. It was as good of an implementation of protecting a two goal lead in the final frame as you’ll see by a team playing their sixth period in two nights.
Kuznetsov then sealed the deal, after Williams drew a neutral zone penalty, notching the hat trick on a laser from the right wing circle with 3:01 left and ensuring the Capitals would go three for three on their Western Canada road swing.
This was an impressive win and the Capitals are now 6-1 and in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Caps are playing team hockey and getting contributions from many different players. Ovechkin’s five game goal scoring streak was snapped, but the Gr8 still had two assists. Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist and has seven points in four games since returning from off season hip surgery.
The team hockey aspect is very important. The Caps are playing the system their coaches have devised and making smart decisions. The deep roster has also allowed Coach Trotz to roll four lines and three defensive pairs and keep players fresh to better handle three games in four nights or back to back situations. Utilizing all 18 skaters is important in keeping the ice time more balanced and that should help lower the chance of injuries.
Now the Capitals will fly home in the early hours of Saturday morning and then enjoy a well deserved two days off. They played super and have earned a couple of days to be with their families and friends and get refreshed. When they return, they’ll face the despised Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center at 8 pm on NBC rivalry night.
For the next couple of days, though, Caps nation should sit back and enjoy this three for three road trip to Western Canada because it rarely happens.
I’ve called this Capitals team the best ever on paper several times this summer and so far through seven games they are backing me up. But it’s a long season and each player in that locker room would tell you there is still room for lots of improvement.
With the additions of Oshie and Williams and the blossoming of Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky (goal and an assist), though, you can’t help but be extremely positive about the potential of this Washington Capitals hockey team.
Notes: Grubauer stopped 19 of 23 shots in his first action of the season. The fourth goal is the one he’d most want back…Carlson now leads NHL defensemen in scoring with 10 points. He logged 25:34 of ice time to lead all skaters for both teams…the Caps won the face off battle, 32-30, and Backstrom was 13-7 after a 2-15 night in Vancouver…Chandler Stephenson only played 6:18 and was -2… special teams were a big plus for the Caps. Washington was 2 for 4 on the power play and killed off five of six Edmonton advantage situations.