They were Kuznetsov’s first goals of the season, and they doubled as flashes of hope from the Capitals’ No. 1 center. Alex Ovechkin contributed late, notching his 734th goal with 2:21 left. His empty-netter was his fourth goal in three games as the Capitals improved to 2-0-1.
“If you just looked at the schedule and realize that we’ve got a couple of tough opponents, a division game and a couple of high-ranked opponents in the building, I thought that we did some good things to get five out of six points,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said.
The Capitals dominated early, outshooting the Avalanche 19-5 in the first period. Still, the teams were even when Colorado got a shorthanded goal from J.T. Compher.
Defenseman Nick Jensen, who had a two-point night, gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead on a three-on-one rush with Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov at 16:53 of the first. Jensen and Orlov executed a crisp give-and-go, and Jensen appeared to look off Ovechkin as the captain skated down the left side.
“Three-on-one, I’m not not getting a shot,” Jensen quipped.
Colorado’s Darren Helm tied it at 2 early in the second before Anthony Mantha snapped the deadlock and Kuznetsov potted his second. Nic Dowd had the Capitals’ fifth goal 39 seconds into the third before Mikko Rantanen notched Colorado’s final tally with 3:09 left on a six-on-four power play.
Here’s what to know about Tuesday’s victory:
The two sides of Kuznetsov
Washington needed Kuznetsov to get off to a good start. Through three games, his play has largely impressed, but he also has made some glaring mistakes.
On his shorthanded goal at 13:45 of the first period, Compher intercepted Kuznetsov’s pass in the neutral zone then raced up the ice, held off Kuznetsov and beat goalie Ilya Samsonov.
Offensively, though, Kuznetsov has been noticeable, speeding through the zone and creating chances for his linemates. He had seven shots on goal Tuesday. His first goal came at 6:15 of the first: He split the Colorado defense as he collected a stretch pass from defenseman John Carlson, and then he beat Kuemper.
At the end of training camp, Laviolette said Kuznetsov was the team’s best player in the preseason. He came into camp in good shape. And mentally, he seems to be in a better place than last season.
“I’m happy the way we play, I’m happy with the personal performance, but at the end of the day it’s still two points,” Kuznetsov said of the win. “It doesn’t matter how many points I’m going to get if we’re not going to make the playoffs and not going to be successful there. ... So that’s why it’s very important to have a great team game.”
McMichael makes season debut
Connor McMichael played in his first game after he was a healthy scratch for the Capitals’ first two. He slotted in as the third-line center, bumping 19-year-old Hendrix Lapierre out of the lineup. McMichael, 20, skated 9:45 in his second career NHL game; he appeared in one last season.
He had a good chance in the first period, when Conor Sheary set him up for a shot on the right side, but Kuemper made a pad save. McMichael drew a penalty on his next shift, with defenseman Samuel Girard sent off for tripping.
Laviolette has referred to the job of replacing center Nicklas Backstrom, who is on long-term injured reserve with a hip injury, as being done by committee.
“I don’t think we should look for those two guys to replace Nick Backstrom,” he said. “That would be a tall order at this point in their careers. What we do want them to do is to contribute and come in and be good players.”
Samsonov gets the start
Likewise, Samsonov made his first appearance after Vitek Vanecek started the season’s first two games. Laviolette said Tuesday morning that Vanecek had played great but it was time to get Samsonov into a game.
Samsonov faced just five shots in the first period, and Helm’s goal came on Colorado’s seventh of the night. Helm beat Samsonov to the stick side after a pass from Logan O’Connor set him up. Mantha appeared to lose his man, leaving Helm wide open.
Samsonov finished with 24 saves on 27 shots.
“He was good,” Laviolette said. “It was slow for him. It was real slow for half the game. I thought they had some good chances at the beginning of the second period, and then when the score was 5-2 I thought they had some chances. So just to keep it there, I thought he made some big saves.”
Mantha breaks goal drought
Mantha had gone 17 games (including five in the postseason last year) without a goal. That changed late in the second period. He went to the net, directed Lars Eller’s pass from his skate to his stick and beat Kuemper to give Washington a 3-2 lead. It was his 100th NHL goal.
“It’s been a long time — over five, six months almost,” Mantha said. “It feels great. From 99 to 100, it was hard, I guess. ... Hopefully it just unlocks from here.”
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