Heading into Friday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Caps' mission was fairly clear: shut down the Connor McDavid line. The top Edmonton trio of McDavid between Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl had totaled 62 goals on the season among them, while Edmonton's second line had accounted for 37 goals, its third line for 20 and its fourth line for just six goals.
Video: Caps match club record with 13th straight home win
McDavid leads the NHL in scoring, and the math shows his line with just one fewer goal than the rest of the nine forwards combined. Caps coach Barry Trotz elected to use the Evgeny Kuznetsov-centered line - with Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams - against the McDavid line in an effort to neutralize the sensational sophomore, a 20-year-old generational talent.
Although the McDavid line netted the Oilers' lone goal in a 2-1 Washington win, the tally came as the result of a fortunate Edmonton bounce after Caps defenseman Karl Alzner blocked a point shot. Aside from that, McDavid didn't have the puck as much as he normally does.
That's because Kuznetsov seemingly had it on a string for most of the night. The Caps center and his linemates succeeded in spending most of their time on ice attacking in the Edmonton zone and forcing McDavid and company to play defense.
"Coach Trotz gave us a challenge to go against McDavid tonight," says Williams, "and I thought for the better part of the game, we had the puck more than them, and that's really how you shut them down. He can't score if he doesn't have the puck."
Trotz figures Kuznetsov is his swiftest center, and he opted for a speed against speed match-up.
Video: Wilson, Holtby and Kuznetsov talk after a 2-1 win
"It shows that all four lines can play against anybody," says Kuznetsov. "Sometimes it's good for us to practice against the top guys. You never know what's going to happen down the road, right? Maybe those guys will match up here. It's always pretty fun."
What is really impressive from a Washington standpoint is that Trotz has used each of his four centers in the shutdown or head-to-head role against the opposition's top line at some point this season. A veteran of more than 1,400 NHL games, Trotz admits he has never before had a stable of four pivots he trusted in that role.
Secondary Firsts - Tom Wilson scored Washington's first goal, taking a feed from Dmitry Orlov and firing a shot past Edmonton goaltender Cam Talbot for his fifth goal of the season at 12:22 of the first period.
Wilson's goal marks the eighth time this season that Washington's fourth line has scored the game's first goal, and the 18th time this season that one of the Capitals' bottom six forwards has supplied the game's first strike.
Patchwork Lineup - Caps winger Andre Burakovsky was sidelined for the fifth straight game with the hand injury he sustained earlier this month. But the Caps, the league's healthiest team through the first three-quarters of the 2016-17 season, were also without three more regulars, all of whom sustained injuries in Washington's previous game, a 4-1 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were both out with lower body injuries while T.J. Oshie sat out with an upper body ailment. Blueliner Aaron Ness and winger Riley Barber were recalled from AHL Hershey on Thursday, and both filled in adequately against the Oilers.
"Nesser does an unbelievable job," says Wilson. "He's an undersized [defenseman] that comes in against an Oilers team that's got [Milan] Lucic, [Zack] Kassian and some big boys on that end. He uses his speed, he uses his hockey sense and he does a great job for us. He's a great puck-moving defenseman. Any time he is in the lineup, it's good for us.
"And Barbs goes out and does a good job, too. Guys are stepping in, we have that four-line mentality and our depth kind of takes over on a night like tonight. If our line can contribute and help our team win hockey games, we know the stars are going to show up every night and carry the bulk of the load, but it's nice when our line can chip in for sure."
New Blood - Barber made his NHL debut on Friday night against the Oilers. The Caps' sixth-round pick (167th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft, Barber is the fifth member of the Capitals' 10-player draft class that summer to play in the NHL, and the first Caps' sixth-rounder to do so since the 2006 NHL Entry Draft produced Mathieu Perreault in the sixth round.
Barber put up 26 goals and 55 points in his first season as a pro with AHL Hershey in 2015-16, but he missed a large chunk of this season with an injury. He has seven goals and 11 points in 18 games with the Bears in 2016-17.
"He came in and we thought he would be an extra part, and all of a sudden he is in the fray," says Trotz of Barber, recalled a day earlier to ostensibly serve as a spare forward. "He did really well.
Video: Coach Trotz on Friday's 2-1 #CapsOilers victory
"What I like about him is he's got a really good hockey IQ and he's a gamer. There are guys who maybe don't show the best in practice day in and day out, but when you drop a puck and there are 17,000 fans, he seems to be that big game type of guy."
Barber skated 9:56 in his maiden NHL voyage, registering a hit and two shots on net. He'll be in the lineup again on Saturday in Nashville.
Baker's Dozen - The Caps' win over Edmonton was their 13th straight on home ice, matching a franchise record set in 2009-10. Washington has not lost at Verizon Center in calendar 2017; the Caps' last home loss was a 2-1 shootout setback at the hands of the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 29. The Capitals have earned at least a point in 15 straight home games (14-0-1) and have not lost in regulation at Verizon Center since a 2-1 loss to Montreal on Dec. 17.
Washington's Friday night win over the Oilers was its 25th home win (25-5-1) this season, making the Caps the first team in the league to win 25 home games in 2016-17.
Happy Anniversary - Wayne Gretzky was in the house on Friday night at Verizon Center, taking in the game between his former team and the Capitals. The contest came on the 35th anniversary of the day that The Great One scored his 77th goal of the season to erase Phil Esposito's single-season NHL mark of 76 from the record books. Esposito netted 76 goals for the Boston Bruins in 1970-71. Gretzky went on to score 92 goals that season, an NHL record that's likely to stand for quite some time.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road on Friday night, facing the Wolf Pack in Hartford. The Bears cruised to a 6-1 win.
Outshot 10-2 in the first frame, the Bears scored five times on 20 shots in the second. Stanislav Galiev scored twice, giving him 17 goals on the season. Hershey also got single strikes from Christian Thomas (his 18th), Jakub Vrana (his 14th), Travis Boyd (his 12th) and Liam O'Brien (his seventh).
Defenseman Christian Djoos chipped in with a pair of assists, and Vitek Vanecek made 22 saves to improve to 14-9-7 on the season.
Hershey returns home on Saturday night to host the Toronto Marlies at Giant Center.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 27:19 in ice time … Williams led the Capitals with four shots on goal and Alex Ovechkin led Washington with nine shot attempts … Wilson led the Caps with five hits … Orlov and Alzner led the way with three blocked shots each … Jay Beagle won 10 of 12 face-offs (83%).