December 16, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 68 Recap: Kuznetsov’s three-point night propels Caps to 4-3 win

In so many ways it was a typical Washington Capitals letdown game, but this time Evgeny Kuznetsov was there to save the day.

Kuznetsov’s three assists, his first three NHL points, lifted the Caps to a much needed 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.

After Joel Ward put the Caps up early in the first period, Vancouver responded in just 3:24 to tie it at one. Caps fans have seen this story before.

After trading goals in the first, however, Kuznetsov took over.

Kuznetsov, playing in just his third NHL game, tallied his first assist on an Alex Ovechkin power play goal. The puck came around the boards to him and he passed it back to John Carlson, who found Ovechkin poised in his favorite spot. The shot rifled past Canucks’ goalie Eddie Lack to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

It may have been a secondary assist, but it still counts and it clearly gave Kuznetsov confidence going forward as his second assist showed.

Only 4:07 after recording his first NHL point, Kuznetsov roared down the left side of the ice towards Lack, pulled his stick back for a monster slap shot and…passed it cross-ice to a wide open Tom Wilson, faking just about everyone on the ice. Wlson beat the helpless Lack for the two-goal lead.

It was an incredible play and it came from a 21-year-old playing in only his third career NHL game.

“He is such a creative player,” said Wilson, “A lot of fun to play with. The first couple of games he wasn’t sure, and he’s really finding his groove. Hopefully we can have some good chemistry for years to come.”

It looked as if his brilliant night would be wasted after the Caps blew yet another two-goal lead — the 12th time they have done so this season. They started the third period up 3-1 thanks to two second period assists from Kuznetsov, but Vancouver managed to tie the game at three with two goals only 3:06 apart.

But on this night, Kuznetsov would not be denied.

In the third period, head coach Adam Oates experimented with Kuznetsov and Wilson playing with Nicklas Backstrom at center. It paid off.

Kuznetsov showed his quick stick-handling skills to avoid defenders down low, then passed it behind the net to Backstrom. Backstrom found Green on the point and he rifled it past Lack for what would be the game winner.

“[Kuznetsov] did a great job battling down the corner and keeping control of the puck,” said Green. “He made a great play to [Backstrom], and I noticed when Nicky was wheeling the net the he saw me before he even looked up.”

On a night when the Caps gave up a quick response goal and a two-goal lead, they still managed to come away with the victory, something they have failed to do in recent weeks.

Tonight’s win was only the team’s second win in seven games. Even when things looked as if they were going wrong as usual, the Caps improved in a lot of areas.

Jaroslav Halak had by far his best game as a Cap with 38 saves on 41 shots and the Caps did not collapse when defending the one-goal lead.

“One of the good things was in the last five minutes,” said Oates, “We did a pretty decent job of protecting the goalie, blocked some shots, guys stayed in position.”

But even though this was a team win, it was a night that belonged to Kuznetsov who is showing the potential that has many people believing he could grow into a dominant NHL player.

“You know you get your first point on the power play,” said Oates, “which is kind of an easy point, but it still counts. You get your juices going. Great play on the second goal and then protecting the puck on a cycle, which is kind of something you don’t necessarily expect.”

At this point, we are learning that there are few things we shouldn’t expect from the young Russian.

The Caps are back in action Sunday as they host Toronto before heading out on their West Coast road swing. They currently sit at one point behind Philadelphia for the final wild card spot.

Defense of Wilson’s hit part of lingering problem of violence in NHL

(Ed. — I realize this column is going to have its detractors. I hope that if you choose to leave a comment, it will be respectful and based on rational and reasoned thought — as the effort to write it has been.)

Tom Wilson is a young player trying to make a name for himself in the NHL. He’s not playing very many minutes, and he’s not being asked to play in many high-leverage situations. So he tries to do what many young players before him have done — play tough.

Wilson is big, strong and a good skater, which is a good formula for an NHL power forward. But his limited ice time and lower-level linemates have relegated him to an enforcer position with the Caps. Wilson throws his weight around when he gets a shift, trying to make an impact with his physical play, or occasionally he gets into a scrap in an effort to ignite a spark under his sometime spark-less teammates.

But Tuesday night Wilson went too far.

His hit on Brayden Schenn was reckless and dangerous, the very definition of “charging” in the NHL rulebook.

The fact that Schenn turned from the hit, putting himself in a more dangerous position to absorb the hit, only made matters worse. Schenn is lucky he wasn’t decapitated after Wilson drove through him at full speed and drove him into the end boards head-first.

Wilson will certainly get a call from the league office for a suspension hearing, and I’d be surprised if the young forward didn’t get an extra 3-5 games off surrounding the holiday break.

If it ended there, that would be one thing. The league plays lip service to the idea of quelling unneeded violence in the league, yet allows instances (like Ray Emery assaulting Braden Holtby the last time these teams met in Philadelphia) pass without any review, let alone suspension.

These types of hits are what the league is trying to crack down on — the ugly, head-first-into-the-boards kinds that ultimately, with the size and speed of players in the league today (like Wilson), will result in someone breaking their neck and dying on the ice.

What adds to the problem is the underlying need for coaches and executives to try to defend their player in the court of public opinion in an effort to sway the fickle finger of justice from the league. Both Adam Oates and George McPhee publicly went out of their way Tuesday night to address the incident in the media.

“I thought it was a clean hit,” Oates said. “I really do. I watched it live; saw it on the Jumbotron; I watched it again between periods. [Wilson] went across the ice, he slowed down, he saw Schenn come out of the pile with the puck, he took two quick strides, Schenn saw him at the last second and he hit him in the arm. He’s a big, strong guy. He hit him hard, yeah. To me, it’s a clean hit. I don’t think it’s a penalty at all.”

Oates obviously feels like part of his job is to defend his player. I suppose that’s justified. But anyone that follows hockey has to know that this specific type of hit — full speed on a player who is not facing the skater — is a dangerous, potentially injurious violent hit.

Imagine for a second that the exact scenario happened on the other end of the ice. Imagine if it were Steve Downie who came full speed right off the bench, made a bee line for one of the Caps’ defenders skating parallel along his own goal line, and hit him shoulder-to-shoulder in a manner that launched that defender head-first into the end boards.

Caps fans would be screaming to the high heavens for all manners of suspension, and some wouldn’t be happy with the level of discipline unless it approached castration.

NHL hockey is inherently violent and the physical play is encouraged by hard-line and old school executives and adored by a large segment of fans that appreciate that part of the entertainment value of the game above all else. The problem is two-fold: 1) Athletes are bigger and stronger than ever before, and; 2) The actual NHL-level talent is spread water-thin across a league that is probably bloated by 8-10 teams.

Most rosters have a half-dozen players that feel like they only way they can get recognized is to straddle that thin line between playing hard and playing reckless.

Usually, the results are a few hard hits a night, ice packs and lingering (hidden from the public) concussion-like symptoms for these poor brutes trying to make a living in a league they aren’t qualified to play in.

Unfortunately, sometimes the results are what happened Tuesday, when Wilson ran over Schenn at full-speed and drove him into the end boards, forcing in his coach and GM to defend and perpetuate cycle of violence.

Wilson has exhibited enough talent at the Junior level that folks think he’ll be a fine NHL player. As I mentioned, he has the size, speed and skating ability to succeed. Hopefully this season of playing five minutes a night trying to make a name for himself won’t do just that for the wrong reasons and hinder his future potential as a skilled, two-way player.

Oates shakes up Caps forward lines; Wilson staying in D.C.

It was kind of a busy media day at Kettler for the Washington Capitals Friday, as Adam Oates changed up his forward lines quite a bit and announced that F Tom Wilson will stay with the Caps all season.

Wilson, 19 and earning just 6:41 per game, could have been returned to his Juniors team without counting against his contract up until his tenth game of the season. But GM Geprge McPhee and Oates both reiterated that Wilson would stay in D.C. for the long-term. Wilson is not eligible to play in the AHL this season due to some quirky age and draft restrictions.

As for the forward lines, in an effort to try to add offense to the second line, Oates moved Martin Erat up to the left wing spot there, sliding Brooks Laich to center with Troy Brouwer keeping his familiar spot. He then dropped Mikhail Grabovski to center the third line with wingers Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. The fourth line had Jay Beagle centering Aaron Volpatti on the left and Wilson and Eric Fehr slotted at right wing.

Some of the changes make a lot of sense, and some others remain head-scratchers. After keeping the forward lines intact the first seven games of the season — with decidedly mixed results — Oates’ tinkering here is not insignificant. Caps fans are used to constant line shuffling, as previous coach Bruce Boudreau, and even Dale Hunter to an extent, fiddled with the line combinations on a regular — even nightly — basis.

For my money, the Caps best line this season to this point was the third line, with Fehr between Chimera and Ward. That group has had the best puck possession numbers of any of the groups of forwards. Fehr, a natural scoring winger, has been doing a credible job in the faceoff dot, but to me the experiment to line him up in a pivot position was always a reach — essentially, the Caps were trying to shoehorn him into a spot in order to increase his flexibility in order to justify keeping him over Matthieu Perreault.

Where I don’t see Fehr is on the right wing on the fourth line. Granted, Wilson isn’t getting a ton of ice time yet this season, but that kinda has to be his spot to justify the Caps decision to keep him with the big club and not let him play full minutes every night in Juniors.

Also, it seems to be a bit of a waste to move Grabovski down between Chimera and Ward, two players not particularly gifted skills-wise. Granted, Grabovski puts up good possession numbers and this line should be able to generate some chances due to that, but it will certainly limit Grabovski’s ability to be more creative with the puck — not that he was having a whole lot of success in that area between Laich and Brouwer.

I really do prefer Laich at the center position, but I’d like to see him at the pivot on the third line with fellow grinders Chimera and Ward, especially since Laich sees a lot of penalty kill time with Ward. But the Caps made a huge investment in Laich and have maintained that he is a Top-6 forward and can center the second line, so it appears we’re going to see that combo, at least for the time being.

Of course, none of these changes affect the top line, where Marcus Johansson has been a passenger all season. He’s contributed a meager three shots on goal in seven contests and is routinely being run off puck in all three zones. Johansson is not small (listed at 6’1″, 205) but plays much smaller than his actual stature.

His best asset is his skating ability, but he rarely puts himself into position to fully utilize his skills. And on the rare occasions that he is in the right place at the right time, he usually passes up the shot in deference to his two senior linemates.

The Caps play Saturday night against Columbus in the last of a five-game homestand before heading out on a Western Canada swing next week that will see them through Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver before heading back to the Atlantic Coast to play Metro Division foe Philadelphia before coming back home. It will be an arduous road trip and it could very well tell us exactly what type of team the Caps are going to be this season.

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Preseason Roundtable Part 2

Opening night of the 2013-14 season for the Washington Capitals is finally upon us! With that in mind, the District Sports Page Caps staff and contributors will take a look at several key areas that will affect the Caps season as they get ready to start play in the newly-formed Metropolitan Division.

The first half of our roundtable posted Friday.

Also, for your enjoyment, here are links to out position previews:

Left Wings
Right Wings
Centers
Defensemen
Goalies

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, Caps Staff Writer for DSP; Abram Fox, former Caps Page Editor at DSP, Erika Schnure, RinkRebel.com and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, Caps author and contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.com.


5) Where will Brooks Laich spend the majority of his time this season (wing, center, second line, third line, infirmary, whatever)? [Read more…]

Washington Capitals place D Tomas Kundratek on waivers

The Washington Capitals reportedly placed right-handed defenseman Tomas Kundratek on waivers Wednesday, with the plans to send him to Hershey if he clears waivers. The rest of the league has until Thursday at noon to make a claim.

Kundratek’s removal from the roster removes his $550,000 salary cap hit, giving the Caps a little more room under the cap with which to maneuver.

The move could be a pre-cursor to the team keeping Tom Wilson, the 19-year-old winger that has made a terrific impression in camp. He is not eligible to play in the AHL this season, so if he doesn’t make the Caps, he’d have to be returned to his junior team. Coach Adam Oates has made several comments that he’d like to have Wilson’s size and presence on the fourth line this season and that he’s already outgrown major Juniors, calling him a man among boys at that level.

The Caps top two defense pairing seem set, with veterans Karl Alzner and Mike Green as the top pair and John Erskine and John Carlson the second duo. The Caps then have several candidates to fill the bottom pair.

Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy finished last season as that third pairing, but Kundratek’s overall game seemed to be a good fit to stick around as the seventh defenseman or eventually step in for Oleksy.

Then there’s Dmitry Orlov, who at one time seemed destined for top-four minutes. A series of injuries, including a concussion that saw him miss over three months last season, derailed those plans.

In Adam Oates’ pregame comments before the team takes on Nashville Wednesday night at Verizon Center, he said that Kundratek is “a good hockey player. If he gets picked up [on waivers], I hope he does well. If he doesn’t, I hope we see him again.”

Caps Wrap: Fehr set to sign; Wilson added; Schedule released; Laich hurting?

Fehr practices with Caps before Winter Classic. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Fehr practices with Caps before Winter Classic. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The Washington Capitals reportedly have an agreement with winger Eric Fehr to return to the club. According to those reports, Fehr signed a one-year deal worth $600,000, though the team has not announced the decision as of late Saturday night due to the signing of the Memo of Understanding that officially ended the lockout Saturday afternoon.

Fehr, 27, recorded 13 goals and 25 points in 21 games with HPK Hameenlinna in Finland’s SM-Liiga during the lockout. Fehr missed the first 20 games of the 2011-12 season as he recovered from yet another shoulder surgery and recorded just two goals and one assists in 35 games with the Jets last season.

Fehr, if healthy, could provide some scoring depth from the third or fourth line for the Caps, especially in a short season where injuries could provide challenges to the Caps depth. They don’t really have an abundance of NHL-caliber talent in Hershey this season, as evidenced by only two Bears, goalie Braden Holtby and defenseman Dmitri Orlov, being brought to D.C. for training camp.
___________________________

Washington invited forward Tom Wilson, one of the team’s two first-round choices in the 2012 NHL Draft, to training camp this week. Currently playing for Plymouth in the OHL, the 18-year-old Wilson was left off the roster of the Canadian entry for the 2013 World Junior Championship, despite his string showing this season for Plymouth.  He has 12 goals and 34 points (plus-16) with 59 penalty minutes in just 30 games.
___________________________

The NHL released the schedules Saturday, and you can find the Caps’ here. The Caps play 48 games in 99 days. Yup, that’s a lot of hockey packed into not a lot of time.

Vogs has a great piece breaking down the whole schedule, but they’ll play five games against two Southeast Division “rivals” (Winnipeg and Carolina) and four games against its other two (Florida and Tampa Bay). The Caps will visit Winnipeg three times (including games on back-to-back nights March 21-22) and will host Carolina three times. They’ll also play each other team in the conference three times.

The Capitals play two road games and one home game against Montreal, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers. The Capitals host two home games and play one road game against New Jersey, Toronto, Boston, Buffalo and the New York Islanders.

Highlights:

  • Caps host Pittsburgh on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3
  • Eight sets of games on back-to-back nights
  • Consecutive home games against New Jersey, Feb. 21-23
  • Nine of 12 on the road from March 19 – Apr. 9
  • Five of last seven games at home, including last three

____________________________

According to this tweet by TSN.com’s Bob MacKenzie, Brooks Laich is “likely to miss 1st week or two” with an undisclosed injury. Laich has been skating by himself before the Caps unofficial practices this week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Laich played in Switzerland during the lockout and Thursday wouldn’t talk about if he suffered any injury while playing there.

“I feel healthy…I feel good,” Laich said.

He skated for approximately an hour Thursday, most of it with no power since the power went out at Kettler before the informal practice started.  He left the ice once the informal practice started.

“Just getting in a little extra work,”  Laich added.  “Just making sure that everything’s good to go. Nothing major.”

Capitals select Thomas Wilson at No. 16

At No. 16, the Washington Capitals went for a bit of surprise pick, selecting tough guy forward Thomas (Tom) Wilson from the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. Most recently, Wilson is best known for fighting Dalton Thrower during the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game (an exhibition game) last February.

Wilson, who said after his selection that he had an Alex Ovechkin jersey as a child, actually has some things in common with the big Russian Capital. At 6’4″ and 203 lbs, he’s huge, he’s physical, and he has a mean streak that could rival any NHL tough guy. But he’s not “just” an enforcer.

Though he’s not quite there skill-wise, Wilson’s playing style has been compared to that of Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic. He loves the physical aspect of the game, but can also help out a good deal offensively. Last season with Plymouth, he had 27 points (9g, 18a) in 49 games (Wilson missed a month after fracturing his knuckle on Thrower’s head during the aforementioned prospects game).

Scouts have projected that his statistics will only climb higher next season. In Midget, he averaged well over a point per game, and heading into his second full year in juniors, those numbers and that offensive talent is expected to show through.

He won’t ever be lauded for slick Datsyuk-like goals, but this NHL power forward in the making is the type of player that could be a major X-factor for any team.

Erika Schnure is a Contributor to District Sports Page, specializing in Washington Capitals prospects. She has been a hockey writer since 2010.

%d bloggers like this: