In hockey, it is said that the area behind the opponent’s net was “Wayne Gretzky’s Office,” a place from which he took advantage of opponents repeatedly with creative playmaking. These days, Evgeny Kuznetsov has opened a branch office in the same patch of real estate, and his on-time shipment of a pass to Tom Wilson in the third period last night – a backhand pass that Wilson converted into the Caps’ third goal – highlighted a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
After a scoreless first period it was Kuznetsov who got the Caps on the board in the seventh minute of the middle frame. Seconds after a tripping penalty to Vancouver’s Alexander Edler expired, the Canucks tried to spring him on a break as he came out of the box. Edler lost control of the puck at the Capitals’ blue line, and Dmitry Orlov took over. Orlov headed in the other direction with Kuznetsov on a 2-on-1 rush. Gaining the Vancouver blue line, Orlov slid the puck under Yannick Weber’s stick to Kuznetsov cutting down the middle. Kuznetsov faked a forehand, deking goalie Ryan Miller to the ice, then slid the puck around his glove to make it 1-0, 6:12 into the period.
Almost six minutes later Karl Alzner added to the Caps’ lead. During a scrum along the right wing wall, Matt Niskanen flattened Sven Baertschi, and this seemed to provide a bit of a distraction, allowing the Caps to work the puck around to Alzner alone on the left side. Alzner took his time, wound up, and fired a slap shot that appeared to tick off the shaft of Radim Vrbata's stick and sailed past Miller’s blocker, leaving the goalie pounding his stick on the ice in frustration over whiffing on a shot he felt he should have stopped.
Less than two minutes into the third period, Kuznetsov worked his magic. A lot of it was the doing of Andre Burakovsky, who batted an errant pass into the corner to Miller’s left, then darted behind the Vancouver net to out-duel Alex Biega for the puck, pushing it to Kuznetsov in the trapezoid. Kuznetsov, facing the end wall, feinted a move to his right, then backhanded a saucer pass out to Wilson camped out on Miller’s right. Wilson wasted no time putting the puck into the open side of the net, and it was 3-1, Washington.
After Vrbata got the Canucks on the board on a 5-on-3 power play mid-way through the period, Kuznetsov sealed the win with an empty net goal with sixth-tenths of a second left in regulation to give the Caps their final 4-1 margin.
-- The win was the Caps’ fifth in a row, the fourth time this season that the Caps put together a winning streak of five or more games.
-- Justin Williams took a puck to the side of his face in the last minute of the first period, courtesy of a shot from Andre Burakovsky. He returned to take a regular shift in the second period with the second group of forwards to jump on. He finished the game with an assist on the Karl Alzner goal, his third straight game with a point, and was a plus-3 in 18:26 of ice time.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded his fifth game of the season with three or more points. Only Jamie Benn, Taylor Hall, and Patrick Kane have more, each with six games.
-- The win pushed the Caps’ record to 11-0-1 against Canada this season, the lone blemish a 3-2 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames on November 13th.
-- Tom Wilson recorded a goal in his second consecutive game, his fourth of the season in his 43rd game, tying his total in 67 games last season.
-- Andre Burakovsky recorded a pair of assists, giving him consecutive multi-point games and three for the season.
-- Braden Holtby improved to 20-0-2 in his last 23 appearances with a 1.85 goals against average, a .939 save percentage, and two shutouts.
-- In the “youth be served” file…Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Caps with six shots on goal. It was part of a barrage on Canucks’ netminder Ryan Miller, the Caps finishing the game with a 73-58 edge in total shot attempts and a 40-30 edge in shots on goal.
-- The 5-on-3 power play goal the Caps surrendered was the first such goal they allowed this season. There are nine teams remaining that have not allowed a 5-on-3 power play goal this season.
-- Karl Alzner…a goal, plus-3, six shot attempts, a hit, three blocked shots (led the team). He deserved that third star.
-- Bonus… We noted in the prognosto that Vancouver was awful on faceoffs. Well, are they ever. The Caps enjoyed a 34-20 edge in draws (63.0 percent). When Marcus Johansson (8-for-11) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (10-for-15) combined to win 69 percent of their draws, well…
In the end…
This was one of those “python” games in which the Caps wrapped themselves around their opponent and squeezed (13-8 edge in shots in the first period), and squeezed some more until the opponent yielded (three unanswered goals). Even though it was Alex Ovechkin getting the award at the start of the evening for reaching the 500 career goal mark, it was a night for the kids to shine – Kuznetsov (2-1-3), Burakovsky (two assists), and Wilson (a goal and more offensive presence than he usually displays). It was another example of the Caps getting contributions from all over the lineup on a night-to-night basis. They can beat you a lot of ways, but the common theme is…they beat you.