News and notes from the Caps' 7-4 offensive bonanza against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night:
How it happened: A tic-tac-toe passing play set up Evgeny Kuznetsov behind the defense for his first goal in a night full of them just 3 minutes 9 seconds into the game. The Caps showed no signs of fatigue despite playing in their second game of a back-to-back and third game in four days as they scored three goals in the first period on their way to a seven-goal night. Kuznetsov would finish with his first career hat trick and a career-high five points as the Caps offense blew through the Oilers scoring seven goals on only 26 shots.
What it means: The Caps wrapped up a fantastic west coast road trip with three wins over Canadian teams. Washington has now won five-straight and leads the Metropolitan Division with 12 points, one point over the second place New York Rangers.
A career night for Kuznetsov: In a game that featured Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Connor McDavid, the best player on the ice Friday was clearly Kuznetsov who deked and dangled his way through the Oilers for three goals and two assists.
In the second period, Kuznetsov pounced on the puck at center ice after it was mishandled by Justin Schultz and finished off the break away by tucking it through the five-hole of Anders Nilsson for his second goal of the night. The hat trick felt inevitable at that point as Kuznetsov looked like he was playing at a different level from everyone else. The third goal finally came in the final period as he fired a wrist shot from the right circle into the top corner of the net to beat Cam Talbot who had replaced Nilsson by that point.
Grubauer gets the win: Philipp Grubauer got his first start of the season and turned aside 19 of Edmonton's 23 shots. It was not the greatest night statistically, but it was a very solid effort from the young backup. Of the four goals he allowed, two of them came off deflections and one was setup from behind the net which is always difficult for a goalie to defend. On the fourth goal, Grubauer was caught shifting to cover a pass that never came as it was blocked by Brooks Orpik. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took advantage as the puck pounced back to him and he fired into the open top shelf.
None of those goals could be considered "soft" goals.
Still, four goals are more than Braden Holtby has allowed in his six starts this season (two of San Jose's five goals were empty net goals). What does that mean? It means that this defense still has some work to do. Holtby is the type of goalie who can make a defense look better than it is by making a few saves he has no business making. With him on the bench, the defense was a bit exposed and the drop off in net was evident. Grubauer played well, but he has to get more help from the defense.
No goal for Ovi: Both teams combined for 11 goals, but remarkably Ovechkin did not have any of them. The Caps' captain did not score a goal for the first time this season after scoring one goal in each of the five games he has played prior to Friday's contest. Ovechkin finished the game with two assists.
Too many penalties: Heading into Friday's game, Washington was one of the least penalized teams in the NHL. On Friday, however, the Caps were whistled for six minor penalties, the most the team has allowed in a single game this season. The Caps' penalty kill gave up only one power play goal on the night.
What's next: The Caps will get a few days to recover from their road trip as they do not return to action until Wednesday when they host Sidney Crosby and the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
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