Capitals

Kuznetsov leads Caps in dominant win over Avalanche

Capitals

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored two goals as the Capitals dominated the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday 6-3. Nathan MacKinnon made his season debut for Colorado, but Washington kept him bottled up as he finished with a minus-four on the night.

Here are some observations from the win.

Kuznetsov breaks out

One of the big question marks for the Caps heading into the season was Kuznetsov. There were rumors he would be traded in the offseason, but returned and it's a good thing considering Nicklas Backstrom's injury. But he had to be better than he was last season and so far he has been.

Kuznetsov has appeared more engaged from the first day of training camp and already had three assists coming into the game. On Tuesday, he added his first two goals.

Kuznetsov looked dangerous early on, but he could not convert on an early chance because he looked for the pass even though it seemed he had a lane on net. That has been a frustration with Kuznetsov's play throughout his career, but he would make up for it later.

Kuznetsov's first goal was set up by a great outlet pass from John Carlson, which Kuznetsov took and skated past three Colorado players seemingly effortlessly. When Carlson made the pass, you would not have thought from the setup that it would result in a breakaway. He turned it into one with his skating.

In the second, Kuznetsov scored off a prolonged shift in the offensive zone. He wheeled around with the puck, but instead of looking to dump the puck off on a pass as he often does, he wristed a shot through traffic to beat Darcy Kuemper.

 

We have seen good starts from Kuznetsov before that he was not able to sustain over the season, but so far, this has been a great start for Kuznetsov. That was something the Caps absolutely had to have.

A decent start for Samsonov

In his first start of the season, Samsonov got the win with 24 saves on 27 shots. He gave up three goals, but none that you would really call soft goals. Perhaps he should have had his glove up on Mikko Rantanen's goal, but it was on a 6-on-4 late in the game.

Samsonov was the presumed starter heading into the season, but Vitek Vanecek started the first two games of the season and he was absolutely brilliant. He set a high bar for Samsonov. While he was not as spectacular, Samsonov made all the saves he was supposed to and got the win.

But was it good enough to get the start on Thursday in New Jersey?

No points, but McMichael looked good in his season debut

McMichael did not get the memorable debut moment like Hendrix Lapierre, but he was very noticeable in his season debut. He skated better than expected and generated a number of good offensive opportunities. He even drew a tripping penalty on Samuel Girard.

McMichael finished the game with 9:45 of ice time and two shots on goal.

A slow power play

When the Caps' power play gets set up, it is absolutely lethal. Getting it set up -- more specifically, breaking the puck into the offensive zone -- remains a struggle.

Washington continues to employ the drop pass on the power play when they try to break into the offensive zone. This is commonly referred to as the "sling shot" though I was told by the players and Blaine Forsythe that they refer to it as something different. Regardless, the drop pass is a fairly common way to break into the offensive zone on the power play across the league. A defenseman takes the puck from the defensive zone, skates up, then drops the pass back to a forward who takes the puck and skates into the offensive zone. This works when it is done with speed. It is hard for four penalty killers to hold the blue line against a player going at full speed down the ice.

The Caps, however, do not run this with speed. They run the drop pass very slowly and they always have. This is much easier to defend and Compher did just that, intercepting a pass from Kuznetsov and taking it all the way back himself for a shorthanded goal.

A lot of fans hate the drop pass because of plays like this, but the problem is not the drop pass. The problem is that the Caps do not utilize speed with the drop pass which makes it much less effective. That could have been a turning point on Tuesday as it made the game 1-1 despite early dominance from Washington.

 

Is Nick Jensen an offensive threat?

Jensen scored a beautiful goal in the opener that was overturned on an offsides review. On Tuesday, he scored one that counted as he finished off a 3-on-1 rush.

Jensen was on the rush with Dmitry Orlov and Alex Ovechkin, but called his own number for the goal. Kuemper was not even cheating expecting the Ovechkin pass. He was set and waiting for the shot, he was just beat by Jensen.

Jensen had his best season for Washington in 2021 playing alongside Zdeno Chara. It was not really known what we could expect from him this year without a future Hall-of-Famer playing next to him, but so far the answer has been more offense.

Jensen has scored nine total goals in his career. In the 141 games he played for Washington heading into this season he had only two goals. If you count the disallowed goal in the opener, he has scored twice in just three games this season.

Gretzky watch

Ovechkin scored an empty-netter to seal the win. That's his fourth goal of the season and No. 734 of his career.