WASHINGTON — When T.J. Oshie didn’t hear the goal horn, he second-guessed if he actually scored. The delayed reaction shouldn’t have been a surprise since only Oshie saw the no-look pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov behind the net and thought to himself, “How’d he just do that?”
Seeing is believing with Kuznetsov, who had three magnificent assists as the Washington Capitals cooled off the hottest team in the NHL by beating the Nashville Predators 4-1 Friday night. Kuznetsov called it “luck,” but that was hardly the explanation for the budding star’s three-assist performance that put him in a tie for third in the league in scoring.
“I feel comfortable when we get two points,” said Kuznetsov, who has 53 assists and 20 goals for 73 points through 70 games. “I just give the puck to my (linemates) and they have to score.”
“Playing with Kuzy, that’s kind of the stuff you have to expect,” Oshie said. “He sees things that maybe only a handful of players in the league can see.”
Winnik’s goals were his first with the Capitals since they acquired the forward from Toronto at the trade deadline. He had defenceman Dmitry Orlov and Kuznetsov to thank for setting him up.
“I don’t think he gets enough recognition around the league, to be honest,” Winnik said of Kuznetsov. “I knew he was a good centre, but I didn’t know he was this good when I came here. He showed all his passing skills tonight, that’s for sure.”
Thanks to Kuznetsov’s brilliance, NHL-leading Washington picked up its first multi-goal victory since Feb. 16. It was an impressive showing against the Predators, who lost for just the second time in regulation in their past 18 games.
“Just a little slow,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. “They were a little better than us tonight, and we couldn’t really get anything going offensively.”
Former Capitals prospect Filip Forsberg scored a power-play goal for Nashville, which was unable to gain ground on the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division. Backup goaltender Carter Hutton made 26 saves in the second half of back-to-back games.
“Our heart was in the right place,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “Our legs were a little bit behind, but in the third period, we kept pushing, we kept trying, we never quit.”
Neither did the Capitals. Coach Barry Trotz called the first period perhaps his team’s best of the season because Washington shut down Nashville’s quick-start, quick-strike attack.
The Capitals allowed the first goal for the sixth time in seven games when Forsberg scored early in the second but roared back. Braden Holtby was solid in stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced to register his 43rd victory and move another step closer to Martin Brodeur’s single-season record.
With two more points, Washington moved closer to clinching the Metropolitan Division, the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the Presidents’ Trophy, which comes with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. With such a substantial lead atop the standings, that all seems inevitable, so Trotz said the Capitals want to start “building” their game for the playoffs.
“Maybe we got a little complacent for a bit with our point situation,” Winnik said, “but we know leading down this final 12 games that it’s going to be playoff hockey, and we’ve got to get ourselves prepared for what’s going to happen at the end of the regular season.”
NOTES: Holtby’s secondary assist on Winnik’s first goal was his first point of the season. … Hutton made his 13th start in net for the Predators, the eighth time he has played in the second half of a back-to-back. … Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan honoured Craig Laughlin for his 25 seasons as a TV analyst and presented him with a silver puck to an ovation from the crowd.