Kuemper blanks Flames as Oshie, Kuznetsov help Capitals cruise to win

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Kuemper blanks Flames as Capitals cruise to victory originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — The Capitals opened the post-Thanksgiving portion of their schedule Friday with a 3-0 win over the Calgary Flames. Forwards T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin provided the scoring for the afternoon and goalie Darcy Kuemper posted his second shutout of the season.

Oshie, who was activated off Injured Reserve on Wednesday, has been a spark for the Capitals (9-10-3) in his first two games. He recorded two assists in their 3-2 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers before getting them out to an early lead against Calgary. Washington has now won back-to-back games after snapping a four-game winless streak.

The Flames (9-8-3) kept Kuemper plenty busy with 32 shots on goal, but he played one of his best games of the season to keep the Pacific Division foes out of the net. Kuemper has shut out the Flames four times in his NHL career, his most against any opponent.

Here are three takeaways from the Capitals’ victory over the Flames.

Oshie gives the Capitals life

In games Oshie plays this season, the Capitals are 7-4. In all others, they’re 2-5-2. There are many ways to quantify the importance of Oshie to their lineup, but nowhere else has it been more evident than on the scoreboard. His injection of energy and physicality has been evident over his first two games following an 11-game absence.

He got the scoring started 7:56 into the game, receiving an excellent feed from defenseman Erik Gustafsson and burying a wrister from the slot past Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom.

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How badly did the Capitals need that goal? It marked the first time they held a lead in regulation since their Nov. 11 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning — a span of 314 minutes of ice time. The Capitals had trailed first in each of their last five games heading into play Friday.

Oshie ensured that streak would stop there, and it was only the start of the offense for the Capitals’ restocked second line.

Kuznetsov pulls off some magic

Kuznetsov has gotten off to a poor start in the scoring department. He went into Friday’s game with just two goals in 20 games this season and both goals came in the same game. While he has shown in a couple of shootouts that he can still create scoring chances all on his own, Kuznetsov has struggled to produce those moments during games.

Playing on the second line alongside Oshie and winger Sonny Milano, who scored the game-tying goal late in the third period against the Flyers on Wednesday, Kuznetsov showed he’s still got a few tricks in his bag late in the second period. He entered the offensive zone swarmed by three Flames but weaved his way through before firing a shot as he was falling to the ice.

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Oshie and Milano picked up assists on the play. That line played together for the first time Wednesday and has already accounted for three goals in two games. For a Capitals team that has struggled to score with consistency this season, the trio could be a huge lift for the team’s playoff hopes if it can keep up its success.

Milano has started earning the trust of Capitals coaches with his impressive playmaking and took advantage with a couple of earned minutes on the power play as well to set up Ovechkin with No. 791, which gave Washington its 3-0 lead in the latter half of the third.

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Kuemper dominates Flames, again

After giving up a pair of self-described “bad goals” Wednesday, Kuemper bounced back in spectacular fashion with a 32-save shutout. The Flames challenged him early with a 15-6 advantage in shots on goal following the first period, but it wasn’t enough to get one past the Capitals’ netminder.

Kuemper has now faced the Flames 11 times in his career and posted a 7-2-1 record against them with a .953 save percentage and 1.61 goals against average with them on the other side. That save percentage is his highest against any opponent.

On the season, Kuemper has picked up wins in back-to-back starts for the first time since his second and third outings of the year against the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks, respectively. The lack of victories has hardly been his fault; the Capitals have provided him with more than three goals of run support only three times all season.

Kuemper is expected to take the night off Saturday when the Capitals kick off their six-game road trip in a matchup with the New Jersey Devils. The road trip will mark Washington’s longest stretch of consecutive games away from home all season.