WASHINGTON (AP) — Evgeny Kuznetsov is dancing with the puck and celebrating when it’s in the net just like last June.
Kuznetsov continued his wizardry against the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night, scoring a goal and assisting on three more as part of a 5-2 Washington Capitals victory in a rematch of last season’s Stanley Cup Final.
Kuznetsov assisted on two goals by Alex Ovechkin and one by Nicklas Backstrom and scored his own on the power play. The leading scorer in the Cup Final with eight points in five games, Kuznetsov has seven points through the defending champions’ first three games of the regular season.
“If you play with the good players, you’re always gonna get points,” Kuznetsov said after one of the best all-around games of his career. “It’s just about have fun every night you go out there. If you don’t have fun and you don’t want to enjoy, you don’t want to play hockey, you should be retired. But you can see we always have fun.”
The Capitals are having plenty of fun right now with the franchise’s Stanley Cup banner in the rafters and almost the same team back. Perhaps most importantly, they still have Kuznetsov and Ovechkin, whose sublime chemistry from the playoffs was again on display against the Golden Knights.
“He knows when to pass, he knows when to shoot,” said Ovechkin, who has four goals in three games. “Sometimes he try to make crazy pass. You think, ‘What’s he doing?’ But he have his own mind. … You just have to be ready at any second.”
The 610th and 611th goals of Ovechkin’s career put him in sole possession of 17th on the NHL’s career list, passing Bobby Hull. Kuznetsov pointed out that Ovechkin passes someone every 10 games or so and joked, “That’s a free meal for me.”
Braden Holtby, who made “the save” with his stick in Game 2 of the Final, stopped 29 of 31 shots and bailed out his teammates during an especially sloppy second period. Holtby allowed goals to Cody Eakin in the second period and Reilly Smith in the third.
“We’ve played against them enough to know that they’re going to come at some point,” Holtby said. “It’s a matter of keeping your cool and not getting frustrated. You need a couple big plays, be it blocks or saves or guys getting the puck out.”
Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who wanted to start this game instead of facing his former team in Pittsburgh on Thursday night, allowed four goals on 28 shots.
“I think just a few mistakes here there, including myself and guys in our defensive zone maybe,” Fleury said. “But if we clean that up, we’ll be in good shape.”
His teammates hit the post a handful of times and went 0 for 3 on the power play and are 0 for 11 so far this season. The Golden Knights fell to 1-3-0 at the beginning of their second season a year after starting 8-2-0.
“It’s a long year and we have to figure out things quick,” Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore said. “We definitely have to work some things out and find our game.”
Notes: T.J. Oshie sealed the Capitals’ victory with an empty-net goal with 1:55 remaining, sparking chants of “back-to-back.” … Washington D Brooks Orpik returned early in the second period after taking a big hit from William Carrier and landing awkwardly in the first. … Vegas C Paul Stastny will miss at least the next two games with a lower-body injury. Coach Gerard Gallant said Stastny will be re-evaluated when the team returns home over the weekend after this road trip. … Washington D Michal Kempny made his season debut after missing the first two games with a suspected concussion. … F Dmitrij Jaskin made his Capitals debut after they claimed him off waivers from St. Louis.
Golden Knights: Continue their Eastern Conference road trip at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.
Capitals: Expected to give backup goaltender Pheonix Copley his first start of the season at the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.
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