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Evgeny Kuznetsov leads Washington Capitals over Vancouver Canucks

By Harvey Valentine, The Sports Xchange   |   Jan. 15, 2016 at 12:33 AM
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WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals continue to roll through the competition as their young center continues to impress.

Evgeny Kuznetsov notched two goals and an assist, Braden Holtby stopped 29 shots, and the Capitals defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Thursday night for their fifth straight win.

Defenseman Karl Alzner and right winger Tom Wilson also scored as Washington picked up its 11th straight home win.

Kuznetsov's highlight reel assist, on Wilson's goal, came from behind the Canucks net, when instead of carrying the puck around to the other side, he lofted a back-hand pass in front to Wilson.

"You learn to expect the unexpected with him," Wilson said. "You see him do it every night. 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."

Left winger Andre Burakovsky added two assists as Washington, the NHL points leader, improved to 33-7-3.

The 23-year-old Kuznetsov meanwhile, has 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists), tying him with center Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead.

"I guarantee you he's thinking of something else to do if he's in that same spot. That's how his brain works," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of the assist. "He's done that a few times, but at the same time, he's got a few things up his sleeve."

The Capitals opened the scoring at 6:12 of the second period just after their power play ended. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov and Kuznetsov broke in two-on-one. Orlov fed Kuznetsov, who skated in front of goaltender Ryan Miller and back-handed the puck past the goalie for his 14th of the season at 6:12.

"That to me changed the whole game," Trotz said of the goal, which came shortly after a very good Holtby save prevented a short-handed tally for Vancouver. "Once we got that goal I thought we were in pretty good shape."

Washington went up 2-0 after a scrum along the boards. Burakovsky fed Alzner, whose high shot from the point beat Miller with 7:57 left in the second period.

"We knew if we kept it to one we were going to give ourselves a chance but after they got their second it felt like the game got a little bit away from us," Canucks center Henrik Sedin said.

Wilson made it 3-0 at 1:37 of the third.

Right winger Radim Vrbata of Vancouver (17-17-10) cut the deficit to 3-1 with 8:51 left to play in the third period when he banged a rebound past Holtby for his 11th goal of the season during a five-on-three power play.

"Obviously the power play goal was huge but at the same time we can't let ourselves get down by three, and we can't let ourselves always be chasing the game," center Bo Horvat said.

"It seems like we've been doing that the last couple games and we have to figure out how to get off to hot starts and start scoring first."

Vancouver got no closer and Kuznetsov added an empty-netter in the closing seconds.

Holtby picked up his 129th career win, passing Don Beaupre for second place on the Capitals franchise wins list. He improved to 20-0-2 in his last 23 games.

Miller returned after missing eight games due to a groin injury and finished with 36 saves.

NOTES: Prior to the game, the Capitals held a ceremony honoring LW Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 500th and 501st career goals in Sunday's win over Ottawa. Ovechkin was presented with a golden stick, and the tribute included video messages from members of the 500-goal club including Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Phil Esposito. ... Capitals LW Marcus Johansson returned after his two-game suspension for a hit on Islanders D Thomas Hickey. ... D Taylor Fedun and C Jared McCann were scratches for Vancouver. ... Vancouver C Brandon Sutter (sports hernia) and D Luca Sbisa (hand) remain out, but both could return during the current road trip. ... The Canucks six-game road swing continues Friday night at Carolina. ... C Mike Richards and C Michael Latta were Washington scratches.

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