March 17, 2018

Washington Capitals Game 36 Recap: Kuznetsov shines as Caps beat Sabres


(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

After a physical game on Monday in Buffalo, everyone expected more of the same Wednesday night at Verizon Center in the rematch. Those looking for physicality weren’t disappointed, but Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jack Eichel showed the potential for the next generation of skill players, as both players registered a pair of assists.

In the end, Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of goals, Marcus Johansson added a goal and assist, and Braden Holtby made 25 saves as the Washington Capitals dispatched the Buffalo Sabres for the second game in a row, this one by a 5-2 margin.

The biggest story line, though, could turn out to be undisclosed injuries to Nick Backstrom and Jay Beagle, who both left the game to not return, and the status of John Carlson, who missed his second game in a row.

Beagle appeared to get slashed behind the net, and after the game, the news was bad.

Here’s the play where Beagle was apparently injured:

And the news on John Carlson isn’t good either:

Backstrom will reportedly travel with the team for Thursday’s game with Carolina and be a game-time decision.

Coach Barry Trotz was impressed by everyone that wasn’t actually injured.

“We got it from our top people, and I thought we got it from everybody,” Trotz said. “Our lines are all messed up, obviously, with a couple guys out, especially in the middle, and I thought Jojo [Johansson] stepped in and played center. I thought Ovi and the big line really stepped up. I thought our defense core as a whole really got resilient. A guy like Zach Sill came in and did a really good job. I just thought everybody said, ‘hey, let’s find a way to win, it doesn’t bother us, just go.’ It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and they did.”

The hero of the game, though, was Kuznetsov. The young Russian was superb again, with assists on the tying and go-ahead goals, and an amazing forecheck that led to another goal. Kuznetsov continues to show his full force as a play maker for the Capitals (28-6-2).

Ovechkin tied it just 1:24 into the third. T.J. Oshie dug the puck out of the corner and Kuznetsov gathered and started to skate behind the Sabres goal. He noticed Ovechkin at the near post, and his backhand feed went to Ovechkin’s backhand. The Great 8 finished easily,

The go-ahead goal came from Johansson, at 8:32 of the third. On the power play marker, Kuznetsov held at the half-wall, then walked in toward the net. Johansson slid from behind the goal to the top of the crease, and Kuznetsov calmly saucered to Johansson, who dropped his stick to the ice to tip it past Chad Johnson, who befuddled the Caps through the first 40 minutes of the game.

The Sabres, simply, quit after that.

Andre Burakovsky scored 1:24 later — his first in 25 games,  and Ovechkin added an empty net with 1:13 to go.

For Ovechkin, it was his 495th goal and 20th of the season.

Brian Gionta started the scoring for the Sabres, at 5:48 of the first, finishing a terrific feed from Eichel.

Toward the end of the second, Kuznetsov’s forecheck on Johnson forced the goalie into an out-of-position turnover. Justin Williams happily grabbed that mistake and took it around the net and into the empty goal, tying the game at one apiece.

Trotz spoke of Kuznetsov elevating his game this season.

“I think [it’s] just comfort. Trust in his own ability now. I think the playoffs are a good trampoline, [they] have a trampoline effect where you can bounce to that next level, and he’s been able to stay at that level. He knows that he’s played at the highest level against very good teams and has had success. It’s just a confidence. He’s always had the ability and the skill, but it’s now the confidence and the trust that I think he has with us as a staff.”

Buffalo went back up a few moments later, as Zemgus Girgensons banged home a rebound of Eichel’s hard, high shot against Holtby.

As always, Ovechkin showed up in the big moment to score the equalizer early in the third period.

Zach Sill (a player with more penalty minutes than games played in the NHL) made his Capitals debut as Michael Latta was scratched for an arm injury he sustained in the previous game. The injury came in Latta’s fight against the Sabres and the bad blood boiled over into this one, as three roughing penalties total were called and a string of four minor penalties in a row were called in the third.

NEXT GAME: The Capitals have a quick overnight trip to face the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday at 6 p.m.


  • John Carlson missed his second straight game due to injury.
  • The Caps are now 11-1-1 in the month of December, their best December on record.
  • The Capitals continued their franchise best start of the season and now have 58 points to lead the NHL.
  • The Capitals now hold the best rolling 82-game record in the NHL.


Additional reporting by Dave Nichols

About Jacqueline Martin

Jacqueline Martin is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page. She grew up in Northern Virginia and has developed a deep love for all things sports and all things DC. While attending American University she worked for the athletics department and followed the Men’s NCAA Basketball team to their first ever apperance in the tourney. She is an aspiring journalist whose ideal day job is running a large DC sports bar that favored only DC teams. If she is not in her office you may find her at Kettler attempting to skate backwards. You can follow her on twitter @JacqueMMartin.

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