WASHINGTON (AP)With less than 2 minutes left and the Washington Capitals hoping to avoid blowing another third-period lead, Alex Ovechkin skated toward the net and, instead of shooting, passed the puck between his legs to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who knew it was coming.
”For sure I knew he’s going to pass,” Kuznetsov said.
After scoring again, Ovechkin’s most important contribution Monday night was a timely assist on Kuznetsov’s goal that allowed Washington to hold on and beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-4, snapping a four-game losing streak. It turned out to be the game-winner after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored 45 seconds later, but the Capitals will take a hard-earned victory without several key players.
”I’m hoping that we’re going to build after this game for sure because that’s a pretty good team and I felt like even when we give up goal we was never giving up,” said Kuznetsov, who had two goals and two assists for his eighth career four-point game. ”We were always positive on the bench, we always support each other because we missing a lot of guys, a lot of D guys, and they stepped up today.”
Ovechkin scored for a third consecutive game, beating Stuart Skinner on the power play in the second period and making him the 163rd different NHL goaltender he has scored against. It’s also the third game in a row he has scored on a new goalie after Detroit’s Ville Husso and Arizona’s Karel Vejmelka became Nos. 161 and 162.
Goal No. 788 of Ovechkin’s career put him 13 back of Gordie Howe for second on the career list and 106 shy of Wayne Gretzky’s record that long seemed unapproachable. Ovechkin has heated up recently with five goals and two assists during a six-game point streak.
”Ovi, Kuzy and (Conor Sheary) were really good offensively,” coach Peter Laviolette said. ”I thought everybody played well, but you need your best players to be your best players.”
Capitals newcomer Dylan Strome had two goals and an assist in his latest showdown with former junior hockey teammate Connor McDavid, who was playing his 500th regular-season NHL game. He stole the puck from Oilers forward Warren Foegele and scored late in the first period, added a second on the power play early in the second and, with Washington skating 5-on-3, delivered a perfect cross-crease pass to Kuznetsov for his first goal of the season.
Defenseman Erik Gustafsson also had three points – all on the power play, where Washington went 4 for 5.
”Four power-play goals,” Edmonton’s Zach Hyman said. ”Can’t win with that. Can’t win taking penalties.”
McDavid added to his league-leading goal total with his 13th of the season and Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the third period, but the Oilers could not pull off the comeback and extended their losing streak to three. Nugent Hopkins also scored a goal batting the puck out of the air in the first, and Skinner allowed five goals on 31 shots.
”It’s getting old, battling back,” said Draisaitl, who now leads the league with 17 assists. ”It’s exhausting. It’s tiring. We just give up too many goals.”
Charlie Lindgren made 12 of his 25 saves in the third period of his fourth start with the Capitals, who were playing extremely short-handed with players adding up to almost $40 million in salary cap hits out of the lineup because of injury. Dmitry Orlov became the latest absence, joining defenseman John Carlson and forwards T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Connor Brown, Carl Hagelin and Beck Malenstyn.
”There’s a lot of grit, a lot of compete in this group,” Lindgren said. ”As a goalie, you love to see it. It makes you play even harder. It’s a fun group. We’re all competing, we’re all battling hard and to beat a good team like that feels really good.”
Forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel made his Washington debut after being claimed off waivers Sunday from Toronto. Defenseman Lucas Johansen played his second NHL game and first of the season in place of Orlov. Aube-Kubel, who famously dropped and dented the Stanley Cup on the ice during Colorado’s championship celebration in June, delivered a big hit on Evander Kane in the first period of his first game with the Capitals.
”Usually he’s a little tougher on his skates than that,” Aube-Kubel joked. ”I don’t know, maybe I surprised him.”
Oilers: Make the second stop on their four-game Eastern Conference road trip Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Capitals: Host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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