The Capitals coughed up a 3-0 lead, but Evgeny Kuznetsov delivered the game-winner late in the third period in a 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Wednesday.
Here are some observations from the game.
A recognizable offense
The Caps defense was missing a bunch of players for this game, but offensively this was very close to a full lineup with only Daniel Sprong (COVID) and Anthony Mantha (upper-body) out. Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie all came out of the league's COVID protocol for this game and Tom Wilson was activated off of IR. This was the first time all season Washington had its top four centers in a game.
With several play-makers back, Washington wasted little time getting them involved. Lars Eller opened the scoring off of a fantastic passing play. Wilson delivered a nifty pass to Alex Ovechkin who sent it to John Carlson out wide. Carlson was left open and inched his way to the net before hitting Eller on the back door for the goal.
The Caps did about as well as anyone could have hoped before the Christmas break with so many players missing, but these are the type of skill plays they get when their top players all are able to return.
No lead is safe
The Caps were up 3-0 at the end of the first period and Nashville tied it at 3 just 7:38 into the third. In the last game before the break, the Caps led the Los Angeles Kings 2-0, but fell 3-2.
Are there any conclusions to be drawn in games that were played 10 days apart and with almost completely different rosters thanks to players coming in and out of COVID protocol? That's what head coach Peter Laviolette has to figure out.
Kuznetsov to the rescue
The Caps coughed up a 3-0 lead, they went 0-for-6 on the power play, they lost all momentum over the course of the game, but in the third period when they really needed it, Kuznetsov delivered a shorthanded tally with less than six minutes to go in the game for the game-winner.
The goal was a high shot from the short side at the bottom of the faceoff circle. It was an incredible shot to beat goalie Juuse Saros who, after the first period, was completely locked in.
No Christmas spirit
This was a surprisingly chippy, surprisingly ornery game between two teams that have not played one another since Jan. 29, 2020. You would not have had to wear a mask for that game, that's how long ago it was. There was definitely some bad blood in this one as the play frequently devolved into scrums and fisticuffs between the whistles.
Garnet Hathaway seemed to draw the majority of Nashville's ire on the night and early on he was shoved into the net while trying to crash on an offensive opportunity. He got up swinging sparking the first fracas of the night. There would be several more. Some questionable calls from the referees that went against both teams did not help the situation as it became hard to figure out who was heading to the box and why.
Speaking of penalties, the Predators took a few and Washington could not make them pay. The Caps went 0-for-6 on the power play for the second straight game and now have one power play goal in their last 27 opportunities. That is the worst rate in the NHL during that stretch.
With Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie and Wilson back, the power play did seem better when set up. You also have to give Saros credit. He made a phenomenal stick save to deny Kuznetsov on the goal line late in the third period a few minutes before Kuznetsov scored the go-ahead goal. Overall, however, going 0-for-12 in two games is a concern.
A save at one end, a goal on the other
You see it all the time in hockey. Ilya Samsonov had to bail out John Carlson with a huge save when Mathieu Olivier was able to steal the puck from Carlson right in front of the net. Samsonov was able to get the pad over to deny Olivier. Less than 20 seconds later, four Predators converged on Backstrom as he broke the puck into the offensive zone, leaving Carlson wide-open on the right. Backstrom found him and Carlson delivered the puck to the top corner to beat Saros.
Overall, it was a big night for Carlson who recorded four points (1 goal, 3 assists). It is the second four-point game of his career.
A point for Kempny
Michal Kempny made his season debut and recorded an assist on Nic Dowd's first period goal. It was his first appearance with the Caps since Aug. 14, 2020 and his first point since Aug. 9. It was also his first regular season game for Washington since March 9, 2020.