Published January 08, 2015
(SportsNetwork.com) - After a relatively quiet first two games in the NHL, rookie forward Evgeny Kuznetsov showed last time out why the Washington Capitals had been long awaiting his debut with the club.
Kuznetsov will try to lead the Capitals to a second straight victory on Sunday afternoon in a home matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 26th overall pick of the 2010 draft, the 21-year-old Kuznetsov had been playing in his native Russia in the Kontinental Hockey League before finally signing an entry-level deal with the Capitals last Saturday.
He jumped right into the lineup for a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Washington lost both games and Kuznetsov was held without a point.
That changed on Friday when he picked up three assists in a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. He factored into each of the Capitals' final three goals, including Mike Green's game-winner with 9:41 to play.
Kuznetsov cycled behind the net and dropped a pass to Nicklas Backstrom. The center emerged from behind the net and dished the puck to Green, who stepped up into the slot to wrist a shot home.
"(Kuznetsov) did a great job battling down the corner and keeping control of the puck," said Green. "He made a great play to (Backstrom), and I noticed when (Backstrom) was wheeling the net that he saw me before he even looked up. That's just the way Nick operates, so I just had to freeze the goalie and get a good shot."
Alex Ovechkin added his league-leading 45th goal of the season -- and 19th on the power play -- and both Joel Ward and Tom Wilson added scores for a Capitals club that had lost five of its previous six.
Jaroslav Halak, in his fourth start since being acquired before the trade deadline, made 38 saves.
Washington sits three points back of the second wild card spot in the East and could turn to Halak again today. He is 6-2-3 with a 2.85 goals against average in his career versus Toronto.
The Maple Leafs are in contention for one of the three automatic playoff bids in their division, sitting second overall in the Atlantic with 80 points. That is, however, only one point ahead of both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens.
Toronto is 2-1-0 on a five-game road trip and is returning back east following a three-game tour of California. The Leafs sandwiched wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles around a setback in San Jose, besting the Kings 3-2 on Thursday.
Los Angeles jumped out to a 2-0 lead before goals by Carl Gunnarsson and Dion Phaneuf pulled Toronto even. Mason Raymond then scored the winner while shorthanded in the third period with 5:06 to play.
Jonathan Bernier started the game in net, but left after the first period with a lower-body injury as he stopped 8-of-10 shots faced. James Reimer, who had allowed six goals on 48 shots in losing his previous start, turned away all 31 shots he faced over the final two periods.
"I guess for us, we need every point that we can possibly get and we're in desperation mode, as every team is, and we just found a way to gut it out," said Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. "We gave up a two-goal lead, and we found a way to get a big goal."
It is unknown how long Bernier will be sidelined, but the Leafs did recall goaltender Drew MacIntyre from the minors on Saturday. That should lead to Reimer starting today and he is 2-2-1 with a 2.54 GAA versus the Capitals.
The Leafs and Caps have split the first two of three meetings this season, with each team winning once at home. Washington has claimed seven of the past nine as the host in this series.