Friday night was only Evgeny Kuznetsov’s third career game in the NHL, but as he recorded his first three NHL points in Washington’s 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks, the young forward showed signs of assimilating to the new league.
Kuznetsov became the first Capitals rookie to record three assists in a single game since Nicklas Backstrom did so back on March 3, 2008, each play offering a wider window into his skill and potential.
For his first point, Kuznetsov was on the half wall as part of the Capitals’ second power-play unit when he dished the puck to the point where John Carlson would then set up Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer at 8:28 of the second period. It was, as Coach Adam Oates described it, “kind of an easy point, but it still counts and you get your juices going.”
Here is Kuznetsov’s first career NHL point:
Just more than four minutes later, Kuznetsov offered a highlight-reel setup. On a rush up ice he caught the puck in his skate, kicked it up to his stick and carried it further up the left wing wall. When he reached the top of the circles, Kuznetsov faked a slap shot that froze all of the Canucks and instead sent a wicked slap-pass across the zone to Tom Wilson, who had a step on Tom Sestito and fired a shot past Eddie Lack’s glove.
Kuznetsov didn’t want to make much of the pass.
“My partner get open. He took puck, like good shot,” Kuznetsov said. “Thanks to my partner, Willy.”
But Wilson was complimentary of his newest teammate, acknowledging that the hard and perfect tape-to-tape pass caught him a little off guard but he wasn’t complaining. Wilson also said he was impressed by the strides Kuznetsov’s made in understanding the Capitals’ system play.
“He’s such a creative player, but coming into the league you’ve got to ease in a little bit. First couple games Beags and I noticed he was a little bit off systems wise, and tonight it really seemed like he was in all the right places,” Wilson said. “The assists are bonuses, but there were times when I’m breaking out and he’s coming across in the slash in our system and I’m able to hit him right on the tape because he’s in the right spot. Our first shift of the game we spend a minute and a half in their zone because he’s in all the right spots on the forecheck and in the o-zone. We really felt good together tonight, and hopefully that continues.”
The second assist:
For as much attention as that second assist will receive, Kuznetsov’s work to help create the game-winner was equally impressive. Down low in the offensive zone, Kuznetsov cycled the puck behind the Vancouver net, fending off big defenseman Alexander Edler along the way until he sent the puck to Backstrom in front. Washington’s top center then curled out around the net and set up Mike Green for the goal.
“Protecting the puck on the cycle is kind of something that you don’t necessarily expect,” Oates said. “Once again, the way we play in this league, that’s the way you have to play. You have to protect it, wear them out, wear them out, make one more play until you break them down.”
Here’s the third: