Sophomore sensation Connor McDavid made his Verizon Center debut on Friday night, leading the swift skating Edmonton Oilers into action against the Capitals. McDavid, the league's leading scorer, was out with a broken collarbone when the Oilers visited the District last season.
Video: Wilson, Williams tally in 2-1 win against Oilers
The best player in Friday's night game sported his birth year on the back of his sweater, but it wasn't McDavid. Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov drew the assignment of keeping the supremely talented McDavid in check, and he accomplished that mission with aplomb.
Kuznetsov was the game's best player; he and linemates Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams saw to it that McDavid and company spent most of their night in the Edmonton end of the ice.
Although McDavid collected the secondary assist on Edmonton's lone goal of the game, Williams supplied the game-winning tally in the third period as the Caps prevailed 2-1 to earn their 13th consecutive home ice victory, matching a franchise record.
"I thought we were a little bit sluggish in the first; a little bit tentative," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "The second and third period, we got it cranked up pretty good, especially in the second. The first shift, they scored. And really, for the rest of the period we had the puck and we had some really good looks. I thought we could have scored four or five goals.
Video: Coach Trotz on Friday's 2-1 #CapsOilers victory
"We just couldn't pull away. [The Oilers] are a good hockey game and they some dynamic people. We got contributions through our whole lineup, and I thought Kuzy was fantastic, the best player on the ice. It's a crime that he is a minus; the way he played tonight he could have had four or five points for sure."
Throughout the season, the Capitals have been the league's healthiest team. They entered Friday's game with a total of just 24 man-games lost to injury or illness, the lowest total in the league. But three Capitals sustained injuries in Wednesday night's 4-1 win over the Flyers in Philly, necessitating some shifting in the Washington lineup.
Despite playing without two top six defensemen - Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik - in the same game for the first time this season, and despite being without first line right wing T.J. Oshie and third line right wing Andre Burakovsky, the Caps turned in their best overall effort in the four games they've played since their bye week.
Hershey recalls Riley Barber - making his NHL debut - and Aaron Ness acquitted themselves well, and others assumed greater responsibilities and/or took on more minutes to help the Caps to a second straight win.
The Caps broke the seal on the scoresheet, scoring the game's first goal for the league-leading 43rd time in 60 games this season.
Video: EDM@WSH: Wilson buries a rocket through traffic
Washington executed a swift and seamless neutral zone regroup as the Oilers were changing personnel, with former Oiler Taylor Chorney collecting the puck on the right side near the Washington line and firing across to partner Dmitry Orlov, who was set to enter the zone on the left side near the Edmonton line. Orlov left an indirect drop pass for Tom Wilson, who carried down to just above the right circle before letting a hard wrist shot fly through a screen and into the cage, off the far post at 12:22 of the first.
The Capitals took that 1-0 lead to the room at the first intermission, but Edmonton tied it up on the first shift of the second period, scoring on a fortuitous bounce.
The Oilers' top line worked the puck around the perimeter of the Washington zone, and McDavid worked it up to Andrej Sekera at the left point. Sekera fired from there, and Karl Alzner blocked the shot. But the puck dropped into an open area in the slot, just as a pair of Caps skated past in going in the opposite direction. Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl quickly pounced on it and buried it behind Caps goalie Braden Holtby to knot the score at 1-1 just 35 seconds into the middle stanza.
Washington dominated play in the second period, although the possession stats won't necessarily reflect it. The Caps possessed the puck in the Edmonton end for most of the middle frame, but some of those long offensive zone shifts didn't produce shots on net or even shot attempts. They did provide some erosion of the Edmonton defense, which was also missing a pair of key performers in Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse.
Kuznetsov appeared to have the puck on the string for most of the night, but that was especially true in the second period.
Video: Wilson, Holtby and Kuznetsov talk after a 2-1 win
"That's hockey rules," says Kuznetsov. "If you're going to sit back, it's tough to score. When you're going to play with the puck and you're going to pressure guys and they have to go back for the puck every time, it's always tough to play against them."
Neither side was able to score in the second after Draisaitl's goal, but Washington continued to work the Oilers in their own end. Frequently, the Caps engineered lengthy offensive-zone shifts that hemmed the Oilers in their end while the Caps seamlessly changed personnel and kept the play or the cycle flowing in Edmonton ice.
It was on one such shift that Williams supplied the difference maker.
Alzner pushed the puck down the right wing wall to Jay Beagle behind the Edmonton net. After turning in another workmanlike shift in the attack zone, Wilson went to the bench in favor of Williams, who hopped over the boards, accepted a feed from Beagle, and one-timed a rocket just inside the far post behind Talbot at 5:48 of the third.
Video: EDM@WSH: Williams cranks a one-timer into far corner
"We knew coming in it was going to be a tough task, says Edmonton coach Todd McLellan. "I thought we played with them most of the night, but we turned the puck over a little too much in the second period and they got a little momentum there. We were unable to draw any penalties to give our power play an opportunity to tie it up.
"It was a pretty close game, back and forth and hard fought. Both teams' back ends I thought played well, and the goaltenders were good. It was just one of those nights where we were just a little bit short."
Although the Caps did extend their home winning streak to 13 straight, they failed to score five or more goals for what would have been the 12th straight game, and what would have been an NHL record. As it stands, the Caps will settle for a share of that mark with the 1970-71 Boston Bruins.
"We're not going to score five goals every game here at home," says Williams, "but it was nice winning a tight one."