Alex Ovechkin collected the rebound off goaltender Jacob Markstrom’s pads and passed the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the slot. Kuznetsov could have shot it from there, but he instead found Justin Williams, whose high shot from the left faceoff circle completed the tic-tac-toe play.
That goal lifted the Washington Capitals to a two-goal cushion en route to a 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks at Verizon Center to extend their winning streak to four games. This one was delivered by stellar special teams play and then sealed with a productive night by the Kuznetsov line. On a night the entire team played well defensively, goaltender Braden Holtby made 20 saves for his second shutout.
“We seem to be trending in the right direction,” Williams said. “We’ve won four in a row, but we’ve played better in every game that we’ve won so far.”
Controlling possession most of the night when on the ice, the trio of Kuznetsov, Ovechkin and Williams scored its third goal in as many games, in large part because of the improving play of Kuznetsov. His assist on Williams’s third-period goal was his fourth in the past three games and the 100th of his career.
Was Williams surprised Kuznetsov passed up a strong scoring chance?
“The whole arena was surprised,” Williams said. “I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but all of a sudden you have a gaping net. You have to be ready when Kuzy has the puck because he makes plays you don’t necessarily think are coming.”
Said Coach Barry Trotz: “That was pretty nice. The guys would use the word that it was ‘sick.’ ”
Before that even-strength score, the Capitals had leaned on their special teams. The power play got off to a slow start this season but has recently heated up. In the past week, it had helped the Capitals bank valuable points; Washington had scored four man-advantage goals in the past four games entering Sunday night’s contest, a big part of the team’s winning streak. The power play found the back of the net twice against Buffalo on Friday night.
T.J. Oshie drew a hooking call by Daniel Sedin 12:17 into the first period, and the Capitals’ second unit got the first shift of the power play, showcasing an inverted look on which the player one-timing shots was on the right side. When the first unit jumped onto the ice, Ovechkin and his one-timer were in the left faceoff circle, like normal.
The puck cycled around with defenseman John Carlson passing it over to Ovechkin in his sweet spot, and Ovechkin beat Markstrom with a wrist shot. That lifted Washington to a 1-0 lead 13:46 into the game, and it marked Ovechkin’s 200th career power-play goal. He’s the 18th player to reach that milestone. The goal ended a seven-game drought for Ovechkin.
“I had pretty good chances the last couple of games, but sometimes the puck just don’t want to go in,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously, I’ve been in this situation before, and it was not frustrating and all that kind of stuff. You just have to fight through it and maybe get a lucky one or from power play.”
That gave the Capitals 10 power-play goals in the past 12 games. But after the Capitals’ power play was the star of the first period, the penalty kill shined in the second period when Washington put itself in a precarious position by taking three second-period minor penalties while clinging to a one-goal lead. On five power plays, the Canucks forced Holtby to make just one save.
“Our penalty kill is doing a really good job,” Trotz said. “I just don’t want them to be really good five times a night. Once or twice a night would be enough.”
It was a quiet night for Holtby, who faced just 12 shots through two periods. The Canucks didn’t have a shot for the final 15:23 of the second period. In the third frame, Washington gave its goaltender some cushion with a goal from Williams and an empty-net one from Wilson, but he ultimately didn’t need it.
“That was one of our best games of the year,” Holtby said. “. . . It was a very well-rounded game. Our last two games have been fairly good. We’re going in the right direction.”