EDMONTON — Evgeny Kuznetsov fired from the right faceoff circle, and as soon as he saw the disk rattle around in the cage, he looked down, as if in quiet celebration. He was quickly swarmed by his teammates, but Alex Ovechkin skated away from his fellow Russian.
Ovechkin picked up the puck from in front of the net, wanting Kuznetsov to save it. It was Kuznetsov’s first NHL hat trick, after all.
On a night when seemingly everyone at Rexall Place scored, Kuznetsov was the brightest star Friday, with three goals and two assists as the Washington Capitals extended their winning streak to five with a 7-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
“I feel unbelievable,” Kuznetsov said. “Always.”
Kuznetsov said that after Ovechkin snuck up from behind and delivered a postgame face full of shaving cream, a prank reserved for those who earned it. He had a goal in every period, each one unique, but skillful. His first one put the Capitals on the board, as he took a pass from T.J. Oshie and drove to the net, beating goaltender Anders Nilsson.
After the Oilers tied the game at 3-3 early in the second period, Kuznetsov had an even-strength breakaway, rolling into the offensive zone and barreling toward Nilsson like he would in a shootout. He beat him with a backhand shot through the legs, and with that score, the Capitals, leading 4-3, would not trail again.
On a power play less than four minutes later, Kuznetsov fed Burakovsky, who gave Washington a two-goal cushion with a tap-in wrister from the right side of the crease. Kuznetsov’s last goal was insurance on a dominating offensive night, but was perhaps the sweetest.
“He’s a real young player, who we knew how good he was and now he’s just getting more and more confident,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He can do a lot of damage in different ways.”
The Capitals were supposed to be fatigued. This was their third game in four nights in western Canada, and after a narrow victory in Vancouver on Thursday night, they flew straight to Edmonton. Trotz spoke to his team at lunch on Friday afternoon about the challenge of back-to-backs being more mental than physical. He reminded them that they didn’t win the second game of a back-to-back in regulation last season until mid-February.
The team took heed. The offense, which entered the game against the Oilers having outscored opponents 17-6 over the previous four outings, was firing. With No. 2 goaltender Philipp Grubauer making his first start of the season on a night off for Braden Holtby, Washington needed every bit of cushion it could manage.
With the Capitals up 5-3, Justin Williams scored his first goal in a Capitals jersey when he tipped in defenseman Matt Niskanen’s shot. That gave Washington a three-goal lead and six total goals with 8 minutes 11 seconds remaining in the second period.
“There were some weird goals out there,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, who scored his fourth goal in four games. “They bounced off skates and stuff like that. Some nights that’s going to happen. You can’t be great every night defensively. We got it done though, so that’s all that matters.”
Edmonton made a push, but it fell short. The Oilers narrowed the deficit to two goals with a blast by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 5:18 left in the second period. They could’ve made it a one-goal game on a power play midway through the third period, and just as the Capitals were eight seconds away from killing Tom Wilson’s hooking penalty, Jay Beagle was called for tripping to give the Oilers an additional two-minute advantage. But they couldn’t capitalize.
With just 3:01 remaining in the game, Kuznetsov slammed the door shut. On a power play, he fired a one-timer, a forceful and fitting way to end the night. Ovechkin made sure he got a nice keepsake out of it, too.
“Kuzy, I think played well today,” Ovechkin said. “He deserved it. He have very good success.”