It didn’t take long for the Capitals to set the tone Tuesday night.
The Avalanche started their top line of Andre Burakovsky, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon — one of the best lines in the NHL. The Capitals countered with their fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway.
And Washington didn’t let Colorado’s top line get going all night, because it’s hard to get going when you don’t have the puck.
The Capitals blistered their top line all night, so much so that MacKinnon and Rantanen ended the game minus five. Burakovsky ended at minus four. And it was enough to lead the Capitals to a 6-3 lead over one of the NHL’s best at Capital One Arena.
“Kuz’s line did a really good job, they possessed the puck the whole time they played against that line,” Dowd said. “You probably ask a guy like Kuz too, it’s frustrating when...he needs the puck and when he has it, he creates a ton. Top line guys like MacKinnon are like that too. Kuz’s line did a good job and then our line, I think our best thing is trying to make those top lines play defense. That’s, you ask guys like Kuz, that’s annoying too.”
At five-on-five, MacKinnon and Ranten were out-shot 11-5 — Burakovsky was out-shot 7-5. And the Capitals turned up the offensive pressure.
Coach Peter Laviolette mixed and matched all night long, and sent out his own top line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson when the situation called for it. As a trio, they took zero defensive zone starts.
“Anything that was towards the middle of the ice or the defensive zone, Dowd's line did a great job,” Laviolette said. “They were fantastic, especially their shift to start the third period. Really good. But sometimes in the offensive zone is a chance to get some of your guns out there too so just moving around a little bit. I thought they had a really strong game, they didn't come off for any reason other than to get Kuznetsov's line better zone starts.”
The results, not just in shutting down the high-powered offensive attack from Colorado, but as a whole, were incredibly promising.
The Capitals owned the puck at five-on-five against one of the most dominant teams in the league at even strength. They out-attempted the Avalanche 53-29 at five-on-five and out-shot them 31-17. They created 13 high-danger chances compared to just five from Colorado, four of which came in the second period.
The results impacted Kuznetsov, who scored twice tonight and showed the brilliance that makes him one of the best offensive players in the sport when he’s on his game.
"For me, it's very important to have the puck and to play with the puck,” Kuznetsov said. “If I don't have the puck, I'm trying to go to get that puck. The confidence always goes from the coaches and teammates, right? And I feel like I have a great relationship with the coaches and teammates and that always gives you a lot of confidence when you can be creative.”