Alex Ovechkin’s hat trick will garner most of the headlines following the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the Blues.
And deservedly so.
But something else happened that could prove to be an even more important development for the team's long-term prospects: Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like the Evgeny Kuznetsov of old.
On Wednesday night, the 24-year-old Russian produced a goal and an assist in the same game…for the first time since way back on Feb. 22, a span of 44 regular season games.
“That was the Kuzy that, I think, we all see that he can be,” Coach Barry Trotz said.
“Kuzy was really decisive in how he was going to play today. There was no clutter in his game.”
Kuznetsov had arguably his best performance of the season while skating on a line with Ovechkin and Andre Burakosvky for the fourth straight game. In addition to his pair of points, he also put four shots on net—his highest total since Oct. 18. Only Ovechkin finished with more.
“He just said, ‘I’m going to play, I’m going to play [in a] straight line, I’m going to take pucks to the net,’” Trotz said. “ I thought he got to the interior. Because he forced himself in there, everything opened up. He has such great vision. When he does that, he opens up the whole ice to himself. When he’s challenging seams, he takes it in there and then he can dish it off and he can do what he does. He’s hard to contain when he’s moving his feet like that.”
The play that ended with Kuznetsov scoring his third goal of the season was a thing of beauty. The center drove hard to the net, beating St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, then took a perfectly-placed backhanded saucer pass from fellow countryman Dmitry Orlov. From there, all he had to do was chip it past Blues goalie Carter Hutton, which he did. The goal gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead.
“I’m just trying to go to net,” Kuznetsov said. “I know if I will be open [Orlov] will give it to me. So my job is just get open. It’s tough play by him. At same time, it’s great play.”
Earlier in the game, Kuznetsov collected a primary assist on Ovechkin’s first goal. On the power play, Kuznetsov, stationed at the goal post, took a no look pass from Nicklas Backstrom and sent the puck through a pair of St. Louis defenders right to Ovechkin. The Capitals’ captain wasted no time going cross bar down to give the home team a 1-0 edge.
Again, Ovechkin was great on Wednesday. But the most heartening thing for the Caps and their fans should be reemergence of an old friend.
“He’s been getting better and better,” Trotz said of Kuznetsov. “You could see he was going to have a breakout sooner or later as long as he stayed with the program. And he has. It was good to see Kuzy back again, playing the way he’s capable of.”