Hotter Than Fire - Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov was involved in each of his team's first four goals on Wednesday night, helping the Caps to a 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in the first meeting between the two teams since Washington won the Stanley Cup in Sin City on June 7.
Three games into the 2018-19 season, Kuznetsov is the Caps' leading scorer with seven points (three goals, four assists). Believe it or not, although he has had at least a point in each of the Caps' first three games this season, he actually had a better start in 2017-18 when he needed only two games with which to record his first seven points of the season, all assists.
Kuznetsov had two four-point games during the 2017-18 regular season, recording four assists against Montreal on Oct. 7 and a goal and three helpers against Buffalo on Feb. 24. He also had a pair of four-point games during the Capitals' springtime run to the Stanley Cup title, registering a goal and three assists in Game 4 of Washington's first-round series with Columbus and four assists in Game 4 of the Cup Final against Vegas.
Including the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs and the last few weeks of the 2017-18 regular season, Kuznetsov is on quite the tear. He has collected at least a point in 32 of his last 38 games dating back to March 12, and he has totaled 22 goals and 58 points over that span.
Special Delivery - Special teams was the difference in the victory over Vegas. The Caps were 2-for-4 on the power play and 0-for-3 on the penalty kill in Wednesday's win. Washington struggled with breakouts and entries in its first power play and a half, but it resorted to reads, creativity and execution to score the game's first goal and what would prove to be the game-winner, both with the extra man.
Kuznetsov scored with 34.5 seconds left in the first, seeing and then exploiting a gap in Vegas' coverage. With Nicklas Backstrom holding at the right half wall, Kuznetsov shifted from his usual spot near the right goal post to the top of the paint. All he did was present his stick; Backstrom did the rest by banking his pass off Kuznetsov's tape and in.
With the Caps clinging to a 2-1 lead early in the third, Kuznetsov occupied that right half wall spot, and Backstrom snuck around to the back post where the former returned the favor with a saucy feed for a back-door tap-in.
"We're looking to score goals within our same structure," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of his team's extra-man outfit. "Everyone is very aware of where our players are and who they are that are out there. For the last few years we've been obviously a top power play team. But we continue to have the creativity to try different stuff to keep teams on their heels and to show different looks.
"We have players moving to different spots and that's something that has been an evolution the last probably year and a half to two years. It's something we've done and had a lot of success with in the playoffs."
The Caps killed off the first 5:40 of the six minutes they spent on the kill without even permitting a shot on net. Vegas cranked three shots on Caps goalie Braden Holtby in the final 20 seconds of the Knights' last power play of the evening, and the Washington netminder stopped them all.
Wednesday was a good bounceback game for the Caps' penalty-killing group, which was reached for three goals in the team's previous game, a 7-6 overtime loss in Pittsburgh last week.
"It's one of those things that takes time, especially when you have new guys killing," says Holtby. "But I think we're starting to figure it out. We got a good pre-scout and executed well, just made a few adjustments. The PK is one of those things where the little things matter more than anything, and I thought we got a lot better at those tonight."
"The penalty kill, that's something that we're continuing to work on and causing pressure," says Reirden, "pressuring when we have the opportunity and putting people in difficult spots, and forcing them to make plays sooner than they want to."
Power Surge - Kuznetsov established a career high with seven power-play goals last season, but it took him until game 20 of the season to net his first extra-man strike. Kuznetsov scored a pair of power-play goals in the Caps' season opening win over Boston last week, and he notched his third power-play goal of the season in the first period of Wednesday's game against the Golden Knights.
Back In Action - Five-day breaks between games have not always been agreeable for recent vintage Caps teams. Washington is generally at its bets when playing every other day, and the Capitals have been thrown off their rhythm more than a couple of times in recent seasons by random breaks in the action of three or more days in length. Wednesday's game against the Golden Knights came after a five-day break for the Caps.
"With having a few days off in between games," says Reirden, "I'm happy that this was our opponent tonight because we knew that they were going to be a hungry, desperate team that would like to reverse what happened last year, so it helped us get a little more invested to start the game. But it's still a work in progress. There were some mistakes out there, but there were some pretty high end plays as well."
Although they struggled in their own end through most of the second period, Holtby was sharp and once the Caps first grabbed the lead in the final minute of the first, they never relinquished it.
"They obviously really came at us in the second," notes Holtby, "but after a long break, I thought we played a really strong game."
Jetting Past The Golden Jet - With a pair of goals on Wednesday, Ovechkin caught and passed Bobby Hull (610) on the NHL's all-time goals ledger. Ovechkin now has 611 career goals for sole possession of 17th place all-time.
The 300 Club - With his helper on T.J. Oshie's late empty-netter, Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen recorded the 300th point (57 goals, 243 assists) of his NHL career.
Thirty-One Flavors - With his empty-net goal at 18:05 of the third, Oshie recorded his first career goal against the Golden Knights. He has now scored at least one goal against all 31 NHL teams.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 25:55 in ice time … Ovechkin paced Washington with seven shots on net and nine shot attempts … Oshie and Brooks Orpik led the Caps with five hits each … Carlson and Jakub Vrana led the Capitals with three blocked shots each … Nic Dowd won eight of 13 draws (62%).