That output helped the Capitals (13-2-3) stretch their winning streak to six games Saturday, and they improved to 10-0-1 in their past 11. Washington’s most recent regulation loss came Oct. 14 against Colorado.
“Big winning streaks are huge for playoff teams because it’s not always going to be perfect,” defenseman John Carlson said. “It’s not always going to be an easy road, and when you do hit rough patches, it’s nice to have something buoy you like this win streak. So we’re happy, but it’s early and we’ve got a long way to go.”
Wilson’s eighth goal of the season came on a wrist shot 5:53 into the first period. It gave him eight points (four goals and four assists) in four games, and it lifted Washington to a two-goal edge that Vegas could never overcome.
“It’s not a surprise for me,” Kuznetsov said of Wilson. “The way he’s worked, the way he’s playing, if you’re always going to keep doing the same things like he’s doing, you’re going to get success for sure.”
Kuznetsov had the Capitals’ first goal Saturday on a breakaway 58 seconds into the game. It was his sixth goal of the season, and he followed the tally with his signature bird celebration for the first time this season. It was the second time in as many games that the Capitals scored in the opening minute. Vrana assisted on Wilson and Kuznetsov’s goals Saturday, and he has 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) through 18 games.
“We’re clicking pretty good,” Wilson said of his line. “Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t, and when you are playing well, you want to do everything you can to keep it the same and keep pushing forward. It’s fun playing on that line.”
Vegas entered the final 20 minutes trailing 3-2 and continued to battle back but ultimately couldn’t catch up. Nicklas Backstrom scored the final two goals, an insurance tally on the power play with 8:30 left and an empty-netter with 45.5 seconds to go. Both were assisted by Carlson, who has 431 career points and passed Scott Stevens for the second most by a Capitals defenseman. Carlson leads the NHL with 20 assists.
Kuznetsov’s and Wilson’s goals put Washington in control early, but Vegas cut its deficit in half with Max Pacioretty’s goal at 8:57 of the first. The teams traded tallies in the second period, with the Capitals’ Jonas Siegenthaler scoring his first career goal at 15:32. The goal came on the first anniversary of his NHL debut.
“It was like a relief,” he said. “I was just screaming it out. Yeah, felt pretty good.”
Vegas took advantage of a power play with 2:33 left in the period when Reilly Smith sneaked one past goaltender Braden Holtby to cut Washington’s lead to 3-2.
Vegas got another power-play opportunity at the start of the third period, after T.J. Oshie was called for roughing at the end of the second. This time, the Capitals’ penalty kill held strong, and it did so again six minutes into the period as Vegas finished 1 for 4 with the man advantage. The Capitals were without one of their top killers: Carl Hagelin sat out with an upper body injury and is day-to-day.
Aside from Oshie’s roughing call — after Backstrom and Brayden McNabb traded cross-checks, Oshie skated in and pulled McNabb to the ice — and a few relatively tame back-and-forths near the net, Saturday’s game wasn’t as chippy as expected. There were concerns that the matchup could dredge up old memories for Wilson and Vegas’s Ryan Reaves, after Reaves put a blind-side hit on Wilson during a regular season matchup last December. Wilson hit his head on the ice and suffered a concussion on the play; Reaves received a five-minute major penalty for interference and was ejected.
But the bad blood has seemingly settled, with Reaves and Wilson expressing no ill will toward each other ahead of Saturday’s matchup. Wilson, as a top-six player, knows how important he is to the Capitals’ system, and while he continues to play physical, he now better understands how to control that.
“There are two sides to everything,” he said. “I have to understand what [Reaves] wants, and I have to worry about my own game and what is best to help our team win.”