October 20, 2020

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.

About J.J. Regan

J.J. Regan is a contributor to District Sports Page. He also is a college football and NHL blogger for CSNwashington.com and CSNbaltimore.com and has a master's degree in interactive journalism from American University. Regan follows all DC sports but focuses mainly on the the Caps and college football. You can view his online portfolio at regansports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

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