Washington Capitals Vs. Edmonton Oilers: Three Players to Watch


Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals had no trouble dominating the Edmonton Oilers during their last match in October. Can Evgeny Kuznetsov and his linemates pull off a repeat performance tonight?

I imagine that games like the 7-3 pounding against the Colorado Avalanche or last month’s 7-4 shellacking of the Edmonton Oilers make for a fun post-game atmosphere in the Washington Capitals’ locker room. The entire offense seems to buzz and open the proverbial flood gates when forwards like Evgeny Kuznetsov decide to take charge in a contest. Goals come in torrents when usually they come in trickles. 

More from Capitals News

It probably takes one-part sports psychologist and two-parts head coaching experience to exactly determine how these games end up so high scoring. While the 2-1 OT win and prior 0-1 shutout loss against the Detroit Red Wings feel like a valve closing on offensive playmaking creativity for the Capitals, games like the one played in Edmonton must feel like a player’s treat. The trickle goes full bore into a firehose of scoring force.

For the Capitals, however, who are still five points back from the New York Rangers (15-3-2) in the Metropolitan Division standings, no game is a foregone conclusion and every standings point is treasured. With one game in hand on New York (32 points), the Capitals (27) will try to bring the deficit to three points tonight – while putting distance between Pittsburgh (24), New Jersey (23) and the New York Islanders (23) behind them.

To do that, a win against the Oilers is needed. How that happens, we predict, may hinge on three players we recommend that you watch.

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov – #92 – Washington Capitals

What superlative do you highlight when sophomore center Evgeny Kuznetsov puts up a five-point night against the Edmonton Oilers in their first of two encounters? His hat trick of goals ended up being the difference in the 7-4 contest – seemingly finding a patch of uninhabited ice every time he touched the puck. He pitched in two goal-bound passes as well and there’s no denying that Kuzy has the ability to control the outcome of games.

Tonight, Kuznetsov rejoins the second line. While Evgeny certainly used his time on the top line to assert his value to the team working with Alex Ovechkin, the position that George McPhee and current general manager Brian MacLellan have been seeking is at the center spot behind Nicklas Backstrom. Playing as the second center, the top six for the Capitals looks rock solid and Cup contending. Let’s see if Kuznetsov can still dominate with fewer minutes now.

2. Nate Schmidt – #88 – Washington Capitals

For the long haul, the top pairing role alongside John Carlson is Brooks Orpik‘s job to lose. Orpik (who hasn’t played since Halloween) has taken time to adequately heal a lower-body injury ailing him and it’s Nate Schmidt who’s emerged as the coaches’ choice for his fill-in.

While I wonder if Orpik’s replacement was more about keeping other pairings (like Niskanen and Alzner’s) together or whether Schmidt has just looked good enough in practice to warrant the jump, it’s clear that Schmidt is facing some of the brightest lights in his budding NHL career.

Already looking confident in the increased ice time, Schmidt has jumped up into the offensive play in bunches against teams where the goals come a little easier. If Schmidt can continue to contribute in this way, we’ll all need to re-evaluate how we view the perma-grinning 24-year old from St. Cloud, Minnesota. Holding onto the puck and contributing more shots will certainly help him make a case for more ice within the advanced stats community.

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said this to Mike Vogel recently about Schmidt’s play:

"“You see Nate Schmidt, and he’s been a little upset that he’s had a lot of opportunities and hasn’t been able to get the puck into the net,” said Holtby via Monumental Network. “You just tell a guy like that to just keep doing it, and it’ll go in. He’s probably had some better shots than the one that went in today, but that’s the way hockey goes. It turns in your direction if you keep doing the right things.”"

3. Leon Draisaitl – #29 – Edmonton Oilers

Since being called up from the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL to the big club in Edmonton, German born forward Leon Draisaitl is making a huge impression. He’s scored 17 points (seven goals) in just 10 games and is creating quick chemistry for the club centering the top line with Taylor Hall and Teddy Purcell. Leon told NHL.com that he nearly quit hockey during a point in his youth, but the third overall pick from the 2014 draft is becoming a force for the Oilers now.

Draisaitl put up a whopping 53 points last year with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, a team Caps fans will recognize for holding Capitals’ star prospect Madison Bowey. Scouts say he brought maturity and a scorer’s touch to the club which ultimately lost during the league’s championship series against the Oshawa Generals last season. The 20-year old center may keep the Washington defense busy with his skating ability and penchant for scoring.

As I predicted in tonight’s preview, I think the tempo and tone of tonight’s match is probably a bit more subdued than we were privy to a month ago. Both teams will have made adjustments for tonight and that usually yields less scoring excitement.

For Washington, it is the defense that would like to put up a show-stopping performance this go round – yielding six goals in the last two games. For Edmonton, just keeping their playoff hopes alive in a distant dream will suffice for motivation after suffering so many injuries on the season to date.

Next: Caps Vs. Oilers: Preview, Start Time, Live Stream, TV Info

Let’s Go Caps!