The Washington Capitals honoured Alex Ovechkin for his 500th goal before their game against the Vancouver Canucks. Afterward, they celebrated young Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, whose career is just blossoming.
Kuznetsov scored two goals and added a no-look assist and the Capitals beat the Canucks 4-1 Thursday night for their fifth straight victory. While Ovechkin got a gold stick for the 500-goal milestone, Kuznetsov stole the show with his 14th and 15th scores of the season.
"He's got a few things up his sleeve all the time," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "He's fun to watch, and he must be a pleasure to play with. I could probably score a goal once in a while playing with him."
Tom Wilson benefited from Kuznetsov's vision in this one. The 23-year-old Kuznetsov scored a nifty backhanded goal of his own in the second period, but it was his pass to Wilson in the third that had fans at Verizon Center buzzing.
Kuznetsov had the puck behind the net and flicked a nonchalant, blind pass to Wilson in front. Wilson beat unsuspecting goaltender Ryan Miller for a goal that extended Washington's lead to three and put the game out of reach.
"He's such a crafty player, you kind of have to expect the unexpected," Wilson said. "You show him your stick and you stand there and the puck's going to find a way."
It was Kuznetsov's fifth three-point game this season. Andre Burakovsky had two assists, including the setup of Karl Alzner's second-period goal.
On Alzner's goal, the Canucks thought there should have been a penalty on the Capitals' Matt Niskanen for hitting Sven Baertschi along the boards.
"After I got knocked down there, I kind of looked at all the refs and I didn't see a hand, so from then I just kept playing," Baertschi said. "But then they took the shot right away. I think everybody on our team was kind of flat-footed and kind of stopped skating and they took the shot and scored."
Canucks begin six-game road trip
The Canucks didn't want to blame that sequence for losing the opener of their six-game Eastern Conference trip. Instead, players complimented the NHL-leading Capitals for not really giving them many quality opportunities.
"They're one of the best teams in the league if not the best," Vancouver centre Bo Horvat said. "To be down by three goals against them, it's not easy to come back. We should've come out and scored more goals in the first period and get out to a lead because it's tough playing catch-up with those guys."
The rest of the league has found that out, too. Washington improved to 25-1-0 when scoring first and 24-0-1 when leading at the second intermission. Trotz liked the contributions from his young players but said Braden Holtby's stop of Horvat on a short-handed chance in the second period was the turning point.
Holtby finished with 29 saves, giving up only a late goal to Radim Vrbata on a five-on-three power play. He has gotten the Capitals at least a point in each of his past 22 starts and passed Don Beaupre for second in franchise history with his 129th win.
In his return from an eight-game absence with a groin strain, Miller allowed three goals on 39 shots.
Ovechkin became the 43rd player to reach the 500-goal milestone on Sunday night. Fellow members of the 500 club Brett Hull, Peter Bondra, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Pierre Turgeon, Luc Robitaille, Mike Gartner, Lanny McDonald, Jarome Iginla, Steve Yzerman, Phil Esposito, Teemu Selanne and Wayne Gretzky taped video messages for Ovechkin.
Washington owner Ted Leonsis presented Ovechkin with a custom engraved gold stick, and fans broke into chants of "Ovi, Ovi."