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How Evgeny Kuznetsov could have changed Tuesday's outcome

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How Evgeny Kuznetsov could have changed Tuesday's outcome

With the score tied at 0 in the second period, the Caps had a chance to put the first goal on the board on their second power play of the night. Specifically, Evgeny Kuznetsov had a chance to score the first goal of the game and his first of the season. But with a golden opportunity on his stick, Kuznetsov waited too long to shoot the puck the opportunity was lost. It is an issue that has seemingly plagued Kuznetsov throughout his career and one that may have cost the Caps a chance at two points on Tuesday.

After a scrum in the left corner, the puck was fed over to John Carlson on the right near the blue line. With some room to work with, he advanced to the top of the right circle and then fired a pass cross-ice to Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov had set up shop in Alex Ovechkin’s office in the left faceoff circle and the Leafs evidently forgot about him.

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With the puck on his stick and no one between him and Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen, Kuznetsov waited. He waited so long in fact that forward Connor Brown was able to backcheck and turned what would have been a very good opportunity into a much easier save for Andersen.

“A guy caught him,” Barry Trotz said after the game. “Just get it off quick. Guys close quick on you defensively.”

Would Kuznetsov have scored if he had fired the shot? Would the Caps have won if he had scored? We don’t know, but Kuznetsov would have had a better chance at scoring had he shot the puck quickly and Washington would have been in a better position to win if they had gotten the first goal on the board.

It was just another moment that made fans watching in Capital One Arena and at home yell in unison, “Kuznetsov, shoot the puck!”

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In a game that was all about offense, it was a penalty kill the sealed the win for the Caps

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In a game that was all about offense, it was a penalty kill the sealed the win for the Caps

The big story out of Wednesday's win was the return of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom as linemates. The new lines sparked the Caps' offense as they jumped out to a 4-0 lead over the Ottawa Senators. But despite the offensive burst, it was a key penalty kill in the second period that won the game.

Midway through the second period, Ottawa forward Ryan Dzingel finally stopped the bleeding with a goal to make it 4-1. At that point, the game was still seemingly well in hand. Washington had dominated to that point and there was no reason to think the Senators would come back. Even when Dzingel scored the goal, it did not feel like momentum was shifting back in the Senators' favor.

That all changed 30 seconds later.

Alex Ovechkin was called for high-sticking and when play was stopped, Nicklas Backstrom tussled with Ben Harpur and both players were sent to the box leading to a 4-on-3 for Ottawa. Just 44 seconds in, Tom Wilson was called for a slash giving the Senators 1:16 of a two-man advantage to work with. Just one goal would have made it a game. The deficit would have been cut to 2 with over a period remaining.

A game that had seemed all but over suddenly seemed to be somewhat in doubt. Yes, Ottawa still had a steep hill to climb, but a power play goal would have made a comeback seem possible.

But then, the Caps' much-maligned penalty kill unit stepped up and killed off both penalties to keep the lead at 4-1.

How important was that kill?

"When we're on 5-on-3 that was huge," Barry Trotz said after the game. "They didn't score there, I knew we were going to win. I didn't know just by how much, but I knew we were going to win."

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Why now? Barry Trotz explains his decision to reunite Ovechkin and Backstrom

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Why now? Barry Trotz explains his decision to reunite Ovechkin and Backstrom

Barry Trotz did seemingly everything he could to avoid it, but secretly he was thinking just as much about reuniting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom as you were. He surprised everyone on Wednesday by putting the two back together on the top line and the move had instant results as the Capitals battled to a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.

A 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday highlighted the team’s top-six struggles at even strength. Ovechkin, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov all were struggling to produce at the level the Caps need in order to be successful.

You can talk about wanting to avoid making the team too top-heavy all we want, but in the end, being top-heavy is better than not producing at all.

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So with the team’s top players still struggling, the talk after the Calgary game all focused on whether Trotz would consider putting Ovechkin and Backstrom back together, a combination that has been incredibly successful for the Caps in the past.

Trotz, however, seemed hesitant to make the move.

The lines remained unchanged at practice. When asked why not reunite Ovechkin and Backstrom, he told reporters after Tuesday’s practice that he didn’t feel like it. He told the Sports Junkies on Wednesday that Ovechkin can be difficult to play with and that it was hard to find matches for him.

And yet, when the players took to the ice for warmups on Wednesday prior to the game against Ottawa, Ovechkin and Backstrom were together again.

“I've been thinking about it for a while,” Trotz said.

It is obvious why Trotz would put Ovechkin and Backstrom back together. Their chemistry was evident in Wednesday’s game. But Trotz has avoided making that move up to now through the first quarter of the season.

“[Ovechkin] demands such presence,” Trotz said. “He's the greatest goal-scorer in his generation, I've said that many times, and you need a very intelligent player and you have to get used to playing with him because when he gets into those areas … he can score in those tight windows which any other players can't. It's as much getting used to playing with someone else and all that.”

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“By playing [Evgeny Kuznetsov] for such a long time with [Ovechkin] too,” Trotz added, “It opens up some windows so that we have those options.”

Basically, Trotz’s reasoning is that players need to adjust and learn how to play with Ovechkin. He always knew he could go back to Ovechkin-Backstrom, but it is much harder to start with Ovechkin-Backstrom and split them up out of necessity.

As Trotz would later put it on Wednesday, “If you love something you set it free, if it comes back it was meant to be.”

Clearly, it was meant to be as there’s just no denying that when Ovechkin and Backstrom are together, their play ascends to another level.