Vrana, Kuznetsov power Capitals past Senators
WASHINGTON — With questions arising about possibly reuniting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the same line, Capitals coach Barry Trotz played it coy in recent days.
Wednesday morning, he told his team he was making the move. Wednesday night, the players took it from there.
Jakub Vrana scored two goals, Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and two assists and the Capitals defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2.
Ovechkin scored his 14th goal of the season and Alex Chiasson had an empty-net goal and an assist. T.J. Oshie added two helpers for Washington (12-10-1).
With his top six struggling, Trotz put winger Ovechkin and center Backstrom on the top line and filled it out with rugged winger Tom Wilson.
“We’ve been thinking about it for a while and I said I needed to get back to our identity in terms of everybody can pull their own weight,” Trotz said. “I thought it was a real effective line.”
It was the first time this season Ovechkin and Backstrom, long-time linemates during their careers, started a game on the same line.
“It’s great. We need that,” Backstrom said. “It wasn’t working the way we played (recently) so I’m sure the coaching staff felt that way. They wanted to switch things up, so we got two points, that’s what we need.”
Oshie moved down to the new second line with center Kuznetsov and Vrana, who had his first multi-goal game after being a healthy scratch last week.
“Obviously Vrana had a really good game with Kuz and Osh and I thought we had everybody slotted pretty well, and they all contributed and everybody played the right way,” Trotz said.
Braden Holtby stopped 29 shots for Washington, which had lost three of four.
Ottawa (8-6-6) dropped its fourth straight (0-3-1) and has only five goals in that stretch.
“We need 60 minutes of smart, hard play and we either lack one or the other at some moments,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said.
Ryan Dzingel and Mike Hoffman scored for the Senators. Craig Anderson made 20 saves.
Washington struck twice late in the first period.
First, Oshie fed Kuznetsov to the right of Anderson, who made the initial save, but Vrana poked in the rebound at 15:21.
Then in the waning seconds of the period, Ovechkin got behind the defense and Chiasson sent him in alone with a nice pass. Ovechkin fired over Anderson’s shoulder with five seconds left. Backstrom got the second assist.
“Good start, but we give up another one at the end of a period,” Boucher said. “And it was again being impatient, trying to get that (first) goal back. We’ve got three forwards down low and the D pinching with a few seconds left and Ovechkin’s on the ice. There’s a killer.”
Washington broke it open in the second period.
Kuznetsov made it 3-0 on the power play. Anderson blocked John Carlson’s blast from the point, but Oshie guided the rebound to Kuznetsov, whose wrister from the left circle made it 3-0 at 7:41.
Vrana struck again 2:14 later. His shot on the rush eluded Anderson and got stuck high inside the net, causing a delayed reaction to the goal.
“Nobody stand up in the crowd so I didn’t know,” Vrana said. “And then I just saw Kuzy pointing like a ref that it was a goal.”
Ottawa got on the board when Dzingel scored at 16:37 just after an Ottawa power play ended. The goal ended a multi-game stretch in which Ottawa was outscored 9-0.
However, the Senators failed to capitalize on a 76-second 5-on-3 advantage late in the period.
“That was huge,” Trotz said. “They didn’t score there and (at that point) I knew we were going to win.”
Hoffman poked in a rebound at 12:46 of the third period to pull Ottawa within 4-2.
“We couldn’t find a way to take away their momentum at times and we couldn’t sustain ours for the periods of time that we needed,” Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson said.
NOTES: Washington is 8-0-1 in its last nine versus Ottawa. ... The Senators acquired F Gabriel Dumont on waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning. ... The Capitals are 11-1-1 when they score at least three goals. ... Ottawa C Matt Duchene remains without a point and is a minus-8 after six games as a Senator. ... Washington D John Carlson’s assist gave him seven points (one goal, six assists) in his last seven games.