“For our organization, for our team to do well, we need him at the top of his game,” MacLellan told reporters.
One week later, there’s no question Kuznetsov’s midseason swoon is far behind him.
The Capitals (31-18-7, 69 points) concluded their season-long six-game homestand at 4-1-1, earning nine of the 12 available standings points.
Kuznetsov finished that homestand with 12 points, averaging one goal and one assist per game. Monday was the seventh four-point outing of his NHL career.
“I was encouraged going into the break,” coach Todd Reirden said. “We had had a few discussions going into the break just about how he was going to play when he returned. So I was confident in the player. His ability is obviously at an elite level, and he’s been doing some really good things. He is a difference-maker when he plays like that, there’s no doubt about it.”
A standard bashful Kuznetsov did not want to talk much about himself.
“Even if things not going well, you have to work and not just hard work, you have to smart work and you just have to wait for your chance,” he said. “When chances come up, you just have to execute.”
Ovechkin added his first goal since the All-Star Break to extend his league-leading total to 38. Brett Connolly, Christian Djoos and Jakub Vrana also scored. Pheonix Copley made 29 saves and improved to 12-5-3 this year.
Ovechkin was first on the board, scoring his power-play goal three minutes into the game from the front of the left circle and through some traffic. While the arena was still celebrating that goal, Los Angeles scored its first. Defenseman Derek Forbort grabbed a loose puck next to the Washington net, passed through his legs and across the crease to teammate Austin Wagner to score.
Connolly continued a personal hot streak with his fourth goal in four games. He shot on Jonathan Quick, then scored off his own rebound. But Dmitry Orlov took a hooking on the very next shift, leading to a Tyler Toffoli power-play goal to tie the game 2-2.
In the final minute of the first, Connolly committed the Capitals‘ third minor of the period, all of them for hooking. The Capitals entered Monday with the second-most total penalties in the NHL, something they’ve been struggling to correct.
But they would go the rest of the game without seeing the penalty box. Reirden said he didn’t verbalize any specific instructions in the first intermission to clean up the penalties.
“No, I’m pretty sure they know that I was unhappy about it,” Reirden said. “So yes, it was disgust and that’s something that we gotta continue to clean up. It’s just not a recipe for success.”
Oscar Fantenberg put the Kings ahead early in the second with a one-timer from the point, but it didn’t last long. Kuznetsov scored to open the floodgates for Washington, popping in a rebound from Tom Wilson’s initial close-range shot.
Then, Djoos fed Ovechkin from the goal line, and like so many other plays Monday, Quick blocked the initial shot. The puck bounced back to Djoos next to Quick’s left post, and the with one hand on his stick, third-pair blueliner chipped in a goal on an unreproducible trajectory over Quick and in the top of the net.
It was Djoos’ first goal since Dec. 30, 2017. He recently returned from missing 24 games due to compartment syndrome in his thigh that required a procedure.
“A little lucky,” Djoos said. “I didn’t try to do that really, but I’m happy that it went in.”
Jakub Vrana added a screaming one-timer from the right circle not even three minutes later to make it 5-3 Washington.
Wagner scored his second goal halfway through the third to trim the lead, but Kuznetsov scored the clincher in the last five minutes. He dangled to get Quick to dive, then wristed it home.
“He does some magic out there, for sure,” Copley said of Kuznetsov.
“The last few games he’s been unbelievable. It’s important,” Vrana said.
The Capitals play part two of a back-to-back Tuesday night at the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of their chief rivals in the Metropolitan Division with whom they’re jockeying for playoff position. It’s the first of a six-game road trip that also takes them to the West Coast and finishes in Toronto and Buffalo.
“That’s perfect. We finally go for the road,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s too much time we spent at home. You get a little bit frustration.”
But the man with four points definitely wasn’t frustrated Monday.
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