MONTREAL — There was nothing rusty about Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game when he returned to the ice for the Washington Capitals.
Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson each scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom had four assists as Washington defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-4 on Saturday night.
It was Kuznetsov’s first game back after missing three with an upper-body injury.
“It’s tough to watch hockey from upstairs and it’s so good to be back on the ice,” said Kuznetsov, who has 23 goals this season. “It’s even better when you win.”
Jay Beagle and T.J. Oshie also scored for Washington (44-24-7), which strengthened its grip on first place in the Metropolitan Division. Backstrom posted his 20th career game with at least four points, and second this season.
“It was an important game for us and it doesn’t matter how you play, how many mistakes we (made). We got the two points. That’s the key for us,” Kuznetsov said.
Charles Hudon scored twice for Montreal (27-37-12), which was coming off a 3-0 win at Buffalo on Friday night. Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher each had a goal for the Canadiens, who are 2-8-2 in their last 12 games.
Gallagher’s goal was originally credited to Jonathan Drouin before being changed.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price struggled in his second start since returning from a concussion as Washington outshot Montreal 30-21.
Price, who came back from a monthlong layoff Wednesday in a 5-3 loss at Pittsburgh, has allowed 11 goals on 69 shots in two outings. He was beaten three times on the first nine shots by the high-powered Capitals.
“I just focus on the next shot,” he said. “Obviously when you give up a six-spot it’s not that much fun, but just try to focus on the process and focus on the next shot.”
It’s been a tough season for the 2015 Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, with a subpar 3.10 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in 45 appearances.
Price was diagnosed with a concussion after taking a shot to the mask Feb. 20 in Philadelphia. Antti Niemi has been solid in relief, including a shutout win Friday night in Buffalo, causing some to question if Price shouldn’t just be shut down for the rest of the season.
But Price and the team thought it better, with the Canadiens out of playoff contention, to get some games in before the offseason.
Montreal coach Claude Julien is confident Price will be back to his old self soon enough.
“There’s a goaltender on the other side, (Braden) Holtby, who’s having the same kind of year as Price and he’s a pretty good goalie, so it happens,” Julien said. “One thing I can tell you is we know how good (Price) is and how good he will be and I’m not worried about him bouncing back.
“It wasn’t his best night, but at the same time a lot of our season has gone that way. Our team wasn’t great. We talked about how many slot chances we’ve been giving up. I’m way more confident than worried about Carey right now.”
Jacob de la Rose provided the forecheck that sent Galchenyuk in alone to deke Philipp Grubauer 8:35 into the game. Gallagher added another a minute later but had it called back after an offside review.
The setback seemed to knock the air out of Montreal, and the Capitals jumped on the Canadiens for three goals before the end of the period.
Kuznetsov, back after missing three games with an upper-body injury, scored on a wrist shot from the right circle on a power play at 11:11. Price made a soft pass from behind his net that was picked off by Backstrom and fed to Wilson to score from the slot at 14:49.
Wilson was fed alone in front again to score on a high shot at 18:11.
A Washington power play had just ended when Beagle tipped in Dmitry Orlov’s point shot 4:52 into the second.
Montreal got it back with two seconds left in the period when Hudon redirected Jordie Benn’s shot from 10 feet in front of Grubauer.
Kuznetsov was parked at the side of the net to tip in Backstrom’s pass on a power play 1:10 into the third period. Capitals defenseman Jakub Jerabek, who started the season in Montreal, saw his high shot tipped past Price by Oshie at 4:52.
Hudon was credited with his 10th of the season at 9:28 when his shot through traffic from the left side looked as if it may have gone in off Nikita Scherbak’s hip at the side of the net. Drouin took a shot on a power play with 1:57 left to play that Gallagher appeared to tip in while standing just outside the crease.
NOTES: Barry Trotz earned his 200th win as coach of the Capitals. … The Canadiens signed 20-year-old free-agent forward Hayden Verbeek of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to a three-year contract starting next season. He is the nephew of former NHL player Pat Verbeek.
Capitals: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.
Canadiens: Host the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.
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