Maybe there will come a day when the rest of the NHL catches on to what Evgeny Kuznetsov is thinking and seeing on the ice. It’s just not today.
Kuznetsov was otherworldly in the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Friday night, pulling off three brilliant assists for a highlight reel Kuznetrick.
“He’s very deceptive,” said Caps left wing Daniel Winnik, who scored his first goal as a Capital after Kuznetsov froze Nashville goaltender Carter Hutton by faking a shot and sending a slap pass to Winnik. “He’s a great skater and he’s really good through the middle of the ice.”
“A lot of guys can maybe see what he does,” said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who caught the Predators on a line change with a long outlet pass to Kuznetsov on Winnik’s goal. “But he executes all the time. He’s fun to watch.”
With his three assists, Kuznetsov now ranks tied for second in the NHL with 53 assists and leads the NHL with 41 primary assists. He also leads the league with a plus-33. All three of his assists Friday night were primaries and all had a touch of magic.
On T.J. Oshie’s go-ahead goal in the second period, Kuznetov swung around the left side of the net, drew defenseman Mattias Ekholm to him like a magnet and slipped a backhand pass to Oshie. By the time Hutton reacted, the puck was behind him for Oshie’scareer-high 22nd goal.
“It just happens,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s a lucky play. When they’re open I get the puck to my linemates and they have to score. I’m always happy when my line scores a goal.”
Kuznetsov finished off his three-point night 36 seconds into the final period when he passed the puck to himself off the boards behind the Nashville net, then flipped a pass to Burakovsky in the crease, where Burakovsky roofed a shot over Hutton.
“Every day in practice and every game we play with each other we’re starting to learn each other,” said Burakovsky, whose goal was his 15th of the season. “I kind of know exactly what he’s going to do with the puck. I’m just trying to find open ice.”
The win was the Caps’ second straight and pushed their point total to 107, which is 19 more points than the second-place Rangers in the Metro Division, 18 more points the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers and 14 points more than the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars.
“I’ve never been on top of the league,” Kuznetsov said, referring to his five seasons in the KHL and three in the NHL. “I never know how this feels and it feels pretty nice right now. We have to stay with it and play 100 percent every game.”
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