WASHINGTON – For nearly four years, Washington Capitals fans have watched video clips of Evgeny Kuznetsov playing in Russia and imagined what he could do in the NHL.
On Friday night, Kuznetsov began compiling the North American version of his greatest hits—posting three assists for his first NHL points in the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
Kuznetsov assisted during a power play as countryman Alex Ovechkin finished with a slap shot for his NHL-leading 45th goal. Less than five minutes later, Kuznetsov faked a slap shot from the wing and fed the puck to Tom Wilson for his third goal.
In the third period, Kuznetsov started a sequence that led to Mike Green putting the Capitals ahead for good with 9:41 left. Green scored with a slap shot off a feed from Nicklas Backstrom from behind the net.
“(Kuznetsov) did a great job battling down the corner and keeping control of the puck,” said Green, who scored his ninth goal. “He made a great play to Nicky, and I noticed when Nicky was wheeling the net that he saw me before he even looked up.”
It was the third NHL game for Kuznetsov, the Capitals’ first-round pick in the 2010 draft. He signed with Washington last week after five years in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
“You get your first point on the power play, which is kind of an easy point, but it still counts,” Washington coach Adam Oates said. “You get your juices going. Great play on the second goal, and then protecting the puck on a cycle (on the third goal), which is kind of something you don’t necessarily expect.”
Kuznetsov played on Washington’s fourth line with fellow rookie Wilson and Jay Beagle, who contributed an assist.
“He is such a creative player and a lot of fun to play with,” Wilson said. “The first couple of games he wasn’t sure, and he’s really finding his groove. Hopefully we can have some chemistry for years to come.”
Kuznetsov’s performance helped the Capitals forget the 12th time this season they’ve blown a two-goal advantage. Washington led 3-1 early in the third period before Shawn Matthias and Nicklas Jensen scored for Vancouver to tie it. The goal by Jensen, a rookie playing in his sixth game, was the first of his NHL career.
“I just felt we were just going to keep on coming,” Vancouver coach John Tortorella said. “They’ve given up some leads here. We got that third one, I thought we were just going to take off. We had some chances.”
Vancouver outshot Washington 41-21, but the Capitals killed all seven Canucks power plays. Jaroslav Halak made 38 saves in his fourth start with the Capitals.
“He had a fantastic night,” Oates said. “We left him hanging.”
Jordan Schroeder scored Vancouver’s first goal, and Chris Higgins and Christopher Tanev both had two assists. Eddie Lack stopped 17 shots as Vancouver fell to 3-12-1 in its last 16 games.
“It’s frustrating. I thought we played really well all game,” Matthias said. “To tie it up there and let that happen, it’s upsetting.”
The night got off to a difficult start for the Canucks, whose bus broke down. Players then took cabs to the arena.
Joel Ward opened the scoring for Washington, but the second period belonged to Kuznetsov.
“He’s sort of got that young mentality where you know you’re not afraid to make a play and do these things that you’re capable of,” Green said. “He’s going to be a great player.”
NOTES: The Canucks learned on Friday they will be without C Ryan Kesler for two weeks. Kesler, who leads the team with 22 goals, injured his knee in a 3-2 shootout victory on Wednesday over Winnipeg. … The International Olympic Committee ruled that Backstrom wasn’t at fault for his positive drug test before the gold-medal game at the Olympics, in which he didn’t play, and he will receive the silver medal he earned with Sweden.