T.J. Oshie provided the early spark, Evgeny Kuznetsov dazzled with a stunner of a goal and Alex Ovechkin scored from his signature spot on the power play as the Washington Capitals ran away with a 3-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Friday afternoon at Capital One Arena.
Washington (9-10-3) had slumped in recent weeks, but its veterans have helped pull the group out of its rut with consecutive wins.
“We’re still very confident in the group we got here,” Kuemper said. “We’re definitely not happy with how the season started, but we’re confident that we’re going to turn it around. … The last two games have been a step in that direction.”
Oshie gave the Capitals an early lead with a strike past Jacob Markstrom (22 saves) with 12:04 left in the first period off a slick feed from Erik Gustafsson. The blue-liner jumped into the rush and set up a trailing Oshie between the circles. Oshie returned to the lineup Wednesday after an 11-game absence with a lower-body injury.
Oshie finished with a goal and an assist against the Flames after posting two assists Wednesday in his first game back.
“It’s nice to have a guy that’s not afraid to make a play and, if not going to work out, he’s not afraid to make another one after that,” Kuznetsov said of Oshie.
Oshie’s goal marked the first time the Capitals played with a lead in 314 minutes (five-plus games) dating from Nov. 11.
Washington doubled its lead in the second period when Kuznetsov weaved through three Flames defenders, was dragged to the ice and still managed to get the puck past Markstrom. It was Kuznetsov’s first even-strength goal of the season.
“That was a fun one to watch,” Kuemper said. “Whenever he gets the puck with speed, he’s really dangerous, so you’re kind of waiting for something like that to happen. That was beautiful.”
Oshie was credited with the primary assist on Kuznetsov’s tally. During the celebration, Oshie skated over to Kuznetsov along the boards and grabbed Kuznetsov’s arm, imploring him to do his bird celebration, a moment his teammates clearly embraced.
“I tried to get the eagle going for him,” Oshie said. “We hugged him too fast. It’s great to see him going. He’s such an impactful player for us, such a huge part of our success.”
Ovechkin kept the party going at 12:24 of the third when he notched his 11th goal of the season. He kicked the puck to himself in the left circle before he ripped a wrist shot under Markstrom’s right arm. It was No. 791 all time for the captain, leaving him just 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second on the career list.
“When you win, you always have confidence,” Ovechkin said. “Sometimes you play well but you can’t win the game, and that [is] frustrating a little bit. But the situation right now, we just have to collect the points. It doesn’t matter how — lucky, bad bounce — we just have to collect the points.”
Washington’s next game is Saturday against Metropolitan Division leader New Jersey. It is the first of a six-game, 12-day trip.
Here’s what else to know from the Capitals’ win:
Orlov out again
Dmitry Orlov missed his ninth straight game because of a lower-body injury, an absence that has shaken up the Capitals’ defensive pairings. Gustafsson has moved up to the top pairing with John Carlson after being a staple on the second unit, and he has delivered some surprising offense during even-strength play. With his primary assist on Oshie’s goal, Gustafsson is tied for first with Nick Jensen in assists (nine) among Washington defensemen.
Mantha’s tough luck
Anthony Mantha had a few strong scoring chances against the Flames, including a look all alone in front early in the first, a breakaway chance in the second and another breakaway late in the third. But he couldn’t beat Markstrom.
Mantha has five goals and five assists in 22 games. Though he is tied for third on the team in goals, he hasn’t scored since Nov. 11.
Coach Peter Laviolette said he wasn’t too concerned about Mantha’s drought. “Usually guys that score goals will find a way,” Laviolette said.
Penalty kill improving
Washington’s penalty kill has been a bright spot in the team’s past two wins, going 4 for 4 Wednesday against the Flyers and 2 for 2 Friday, including one midway through the third period that kept a two-goal lead intact. The Flames only had one shot on goal in their last power play.