On Thursday night, the Capitals opened with an homage to Alexander Ovechkin, which was immediately followed by a demonstration of the team’s depth and rising young talents.
Evengy Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky — the Capitals junior league took the Canucks by storm last night providing a shining glimmer into the future of the Capitals. . The trio are taking the Capitals by storm and they shone particularly bright last night against the Canucks.
Kuznetsov, at 23 years old, is the senior member of this troupe. He is renowned for his stick handling skills and finesse on the ice and used those skills twice last night to find the back of the net. He also earned an assist making a behind the net, blind pass to Wilson for the score. When Kuznetsov said that the pass was lucky, Wilson vehemently disagreed, “You see him do it every night, so you can’t say it’s lucky when he does it all the time. You have to be good to be lucky, and it was a great play.” Kuznetsov’s second goal of the night came late in the third period on an empty net with six tenths of a second left on the clock. The game against the Canucks marks Kuznetsov’s fifth three-point game of the season and the sixth of his career. He has earned 10 points (4 g, 6a) in his last eight games and is in a three-way point’s race with Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin all of whom are hovering at, or near, 41 points.
We are also seeing Wilson distance himself from his “bad boy persona” and begin to demonstrate his true skills on the ice. While he may not have the grace and finesse of Kuznetsov, he does have lightning quick speed, strength and reflexes that help him gain positioning and get open for the score. Wilson’s goal came early in the third period off a behind the net pass from Kuznetsov, which he then fired, into the goal. The goal marked Wilson’s second in two consecutive games. On Monday, January 11th Trotz indicated that Wilson is “one of my [Trotz] favorite players” with great team leadership potential.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises tonight was Burakovsky. He has really stepped up his game over the past few weeks. He started as the second line’s left wing – up from the fourth line where he played most of the season. During the game Burakovsky earned two points for two assists, the first occurring midway through the second period when the Canucks defensive line were preoccupied with Matt Niskanen’s hit on Canucks forward Sven Baertschi. The pass was perfect to Karl Alzner who was open at near center ice and who fired off a slap shot for the Capitals second score of the night. “I was distracted too,” Alzner said. “I didn’t know that the puck was coming to me. I just had way more time because the people were focused on that.” Burakovsky also earned a secondary assist passing the puck to Kuznetsov who sent it to Wilson for the third goal of the game.
Many teams in the NHL would be thankful to have the strength of a top forward line that includes Backstrom, TJ Oshie and Ovechkin – an NHL “dream team”. The additional strength of the young forwards in combination with veterans Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams make the Capitals particularly lethal. Coach Barry Trotz joked that, “He’s [Kuznetsov] 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.” Trotz believes the young players are finding success because, “I think that we’ve developed a good culture where everybody wants to improve.”
These young talents have improved and grown their professional play over the first half of the season. As Karl Alzner said, “I’m hoping that we find the right puzzle and the right pieces to win the Cup”. It’s encouraging that Burakovsky, Kuznetsov and Wilson seem to be evolving into the right fit to propel this Capitals team into the playoffs.
By Stephanie Judge