Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a pair of goals and assisted on two more to help the Caps to a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night at Capital One Arena. The win enabled Washington to end its season-long six-game homestand with a 4-1-1 mark, a midseason salve for the Caps following a seven-game winless streak (0-5-2).
Monday's win wasn't always pretty, but it was necessary. The Caps embark upon a six-game road trip immediately after Monday's game, and they'll play 12 of their next 16 games on the road.
Video: Kuznetsov posts four points in Capitals' 6-4 win
"We wanted to play a little bit better hockey - actually a lot better hockey - after the break," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "And this homestand was pivotal for us to gather as many points as we could. It didn't go perfect, but at least we were able to bank some points here before we go on the road."
The Caps took a 1-0 lead on an Alex Ovechkin power-play goal at 3:07 of the first. From the bottom of the left circle, Ovechkin settled a cross-ice feed from Kuznetsov and whipped a shot through Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to stake the Caps to an early lead.
A recurring issue for the Caps this season has been an annoying tendency to give up goals shortly after scoring them, and that problem cropped up twice in the first frame of Monday's game. The Kings were able to tie the game up less than two minutes after Ovechkin's goal, getting a goal from their fourth line to make it 1-1 at 4:50 of the first. Austin Wagner scored for the Kings, taking a neat pass from Derek Forbort and chipping it in from the top of the paint.
Late in the period, the Caps regained the lead on Brett Connolly's fourth goal in as many games. Matt Niskanen carried into Los Angeles ice, putting the puck to the middle where Andre Burakovsky collected it and fed Connolly down low on the left side. Quick made an excellent lateral stop, but Connolly collected his own rebound and quickly put it up top for a 2-1 Caps lead at 15:17.
Washington's penchant for taking penalties also showed up in the first, as the Caps were whistled for three of them. Dmitry Orlov took a hooking penalty just 21 seconds after Connolly's goal, and the Kings took advantage, getting a Tyler Toffoli power-play goal from the slot to knot the score at 2-2 at 17:22 of the first.
Los Angeles forged its first lead of the night with a dominant offensive zone shift that culminated with an Oscar Fantenberg drive from center point to the back of the net at 3:42 of the second.
Just under three minutes later, Kuznetsov tied it up for the Caps when he scored on a rebound of an Ovechkin shot at 6:39. The Caps kept their foot on the gas for the remainder of the frame, too. Beginning with Kuznetsov's goal, the scored three times in six and a half minutes to take a two-goal lead into the third.
Christian Djoos put the Caps back on top with his first goal of the season at 10:31, taking a one-handed jab at a loose puck from just above the goal line on the right side, and looking on jubilantly as it went in for a 4-3 Washington lead.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | February 11
"It always feels good," says Djoos, of netting his first goal of the season. "It's been a while, but it felt good to help the team win."
Michal Kempny made an excellent play to put the puck on a tee for Jakub Vrana at 13:09, and Vrana drilled a one-timer past quick from the right dot to give the Caps a 5-3 lead, an advantage they would carry into the third.
"It was a really good play by him," says Vrana of Kempny, "by faking the shot and keeping his head up, he saw me there on the other side. It was a nice pass."
Midway through the final frame, Wagner netted his second goal of the night to cut the Caps' lead to 5-4. Washington has let some late leads slip away of late, but that wasn't happening on this night.
Kuznetsov's second goal of the game restored the Caps' two-goal cushion with a forechecking goal at 15:13. Ovechkin and Wilson did the work along the wall to push the puck low, and Ovechkin made a sweet centering feed from behind the net to Kuznetsov in front. The Caps center waited patiently for a defender to slide through the crease and for Quick to commit before calmly roofing a shot to restore some much-needed breathing room.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | February 11
On the six-game homestand, Kuznetsov piled up six goals and six assists for a dozen points.
"Like I said, even if things are not going well, you have to work," says Kuznetsov. "Not just hard work, you have to do smart work, and you just have to wait for your chance, and when chances come up you just have to execute."
At the end of a six-game trip, the Kings kept the heat on the Caps in the final couple of minutes, but Washington held firm to earn a pair of important points.
"Once they get going, they are hard to handle for sure," says Kings coach Willie Desjardins of the Capitals. "They put lots of pressure on you. When they transition and they breakout, they're quick. And it's not just one or two guys who are quick; they always seem to have four guys in the rush. They actually made us seem to lose our coverage, because they put pressure on us with their speed."