WASHINGTON, D.C. — The last time the Washington Capitals took the ice at Capital One Arena was on Dec. 19 against the Los Angeles Kings. Despite the lengthy time away from the rink, there were some similarities from that game that seemed to linger on home ice. However, the result was different this time around.
It had been a long layoff for both the Washington Capitals and the Nashville Predators following a league-wide COVID-19 surge and ultimate pause. The physical game saw Washington and Nashville exchange dominant first and second periods, but ultimately, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s late third-period goal propelled the Capitals to a 5-3 victory to close out 2021 on home ice.
“It just seemed like, even though we had the dud in the second, I think we played pretty well,” John Carlson said.
Here are all the takeaways from the win:
Capitals Strong In First, Step Off Gas In Second Period
Washington didn’t seem to have too much trouble getting back into the full swing of game action on Wednesday. Lars Eller, John Carlson and Nic Dowd all struck in the opening frame.
It turned into a different hockey game in the second period, all seemingly after one play. Tom Wilson laid a big hit on Ryan Johansen and then dropped the gloves with Mark Borowiecki. Although the fisticuffs led to a Capitals power play, they couldn’t convert, and that’s when Nashville seemed to take control.
The Predators got three straight goals on six shots in a span of just 6:15 minutes from Yakov Trenin, Luke Kunin and Filip Forsberg. Peter Laviolette then called a timeout to convene with Washington, and Ilya Samsonov ultimately stayed between the pipes with Pheonix Copley backing up.
Garnet Hathaway said that break and conversation ultimately provided a boost for Washington.
“The message was let’s turn this thing around. You try just regroup in that short period of time and just try to change the momentum,” Hathaway said. You know, you have those timeouts for a couple different reasons and we took one to come back together, take a second and try to change the mentality rather than what we were doing physically.”
Kuznetsov, Carlson Come In Clutch For Capitals
For Washington, it was ultimately No. 92 that came to save the day. With the Capitals on the penalty kill following their sixth power-play attempt, Kuznetsov picked up the puck behind the net, and then made a great play, showing off patience before firing the puck high past Juuse Saros to put Washington up 4-3 with just around five minutes remaining in regulation time.
Kuznetsov now has points in three straight and is up to 10 goals and 31 points through 29 games this season. He had nine goals and 29 points all of last season and continues to prove his critics wrong with each game.
Meanwhile, John Carlson was also vital on the forecheck, leading the way with a goal and three assists. He now has 30 points this season and is third in scoring among defensemen, just three points behind Victor Hedman. Carlson also has points in three of his last four games.
Backstrom, Kempny Make Most Of Homecoming
Despite the result, it was a solid homecoming game for both Nicklas Backstrom and Michal Kempny.
Backstrom, along with Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie, returned to game action after time on COVID-19 protocol. Wednesday marked Backstrom’s second game this season after spending the first part of the season on the long-term injured reserve and then the last few games on the protocol. No. 19 had a solid showing, picking up his second assist in as many games and also managing one shot and a hit while going 2-for-8 in the face-off dot.
Kempny’s experience was a bit different, though. After two major surgeries and three overall injuries to his left leg over the last two seasons, the Czech blueliner has been continuing to rehabilitate down in the AHL. With COVID-19 cases plaguing the blue line, he got a chance to draw back in on the Washington blue line and made the most of it with a strong first regular-season game back in the NHL since March 9, 2020.
READ MORE ON WHN: Kempny Reflects On AHL Stint, Road Back To Capitals
The 31-year-old was skating well and had good defensive awareness. He had two hits and a block and ranked second among all blueliners in even-strength ice time with 17:19 minutes while skating a total of 20:57 minutes overall. He also moved the puck well and made an impressive stretch pass that ultimately resulted in a secondary assist on a goal from Nic Dowd. The helper marked Kempny’s first point in 664 days, but looking at the grand scheme of things, it was his second point in his last four regular-season NHL games overall. Given what he’s been through, it was a solid overall showing and a good start as he continues working toward a full-time NHL comeback.
“It’s awesome,” Carlson said of No. 6’s return. “We’ve talked about it a number of times in the past, but what he’s been through and how dedicated he is, it’s great to see. He was playing great in Hershey like we all expected him to, really getting his game back, getting his feeling back, working harder than anybody down there. It’s nice to see him come up… there was a lot of D out and he certainly did more than fill a role.”
Power-Play Woes Continue For Capitals
Just as they had against the Kings, Washington got six power-play opportunities in their return against Nashville. And just like that Kings game, the Capitals couldn’t convert on any of them. They went 0-for-6 on the man advantage and have gone three straight games without a PPG. Washington is 1-for-27 in its last 10 games.
Sammi’s Top-Shelf Takes
- Carl Hagelin picked up a goal and assist to find the scoresheet for the first time in five games.
- Garnet Hathaway led with three hits and was one of the main drivers of physicality, not getting along too well with Nashville’s Matt Benning and company. It was a physical game overall, with both teams combining for 45 hits and 10 penalties.
- Alexander Alexeyev was solid in his debut, picking up a hit and two PIM through 10:35 minutes of ice time. Said Alexeyev of his debut: “Think it was pretty good game for me. Play hard, play simple. Nothing too crazy. I’m still happy, I think it’s really good gift for me for the Christmas.”
- T.J. Oshie picked up a helper and has four assists in his last four games.
- Dmitry Orlov also had a multi-point outing with two assists.
- Alex Ovechkin picked up his 26th assist of the season and now has points in eight of his last nine games. He sits in third in the NHL scoring race with 48 points through 32 games.