WASHINGTON — Evgeny Kuznetsov scored twice, Alex Ovechkin kept his hot streak going with the 721st goal of his NHL career and the Washington Capitals brushed off some rust to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 on Thursday night for their eighth victory in nine games.
Kuznetsov, Ovechkin and fellow Russian Dmitry Orlov have all heated up offensively in recent weeks after missing time earlier this season for violating pandemic protocol. Their contributions Thursday snapped New Jersey’s winning streak at two.
Ovechkin has scored eight times in his past nine games after what counted as a slow start for a player who has more goals than all but five players in league history. His team-leading 15th goal this season put him 10 back of Marcel Dionne for fifth place and helped Washington shake off some cobwebs after an unusually long break in a condensed schedule.
The teams face off again Friday night.
A sloppy start allowed New Jersey to take a lead on a goal by Nick Merkley when Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek gave away the puck steps from his own net. After Orlov tied it less than two minutes later on Washington’s first shot against Mackenzie Blackwood, the Devils led again in the second period on a goal by Miles Wood.
Ovechkin’s goal on a one-timer off a feed from Daniel Sprong came 55 seconds after Wood scored. Kuznetsov collected a loose puck and scored the go-ahead goal later in the second, which Ovechkin got the primary assist on for putting it on net.
When Jesper Bratt made it 3-3 with a power-play goal with 8:56 left in the third, the score was only tied for 62 seconds before Kuznetsov scored his second of the night.
Kuznetsov has nine points (three goals, six assists) in the past eight games after just six in his first 14. Orlov has scored three times in nine games after just one in his first. Ovechkin had just seven goals in his first 19.
Vanecek hesitated on where to go with the puck on the second shift of the game, and the result was one of the easiest goals of Merkley’s career. Vanecek rebounded to make 21 saves for his 14th victory.
ELLER STILL OUT
Washington played without third-line center Lars Eller for the sixth time in seven games. He has missed the past five with a lower-body injury, and his status remains uncertain for upcoming games against the Devils and New York Rangers.
Eller’s absence shifted T.J. Oshie into a multi-positional role, as he spent time at right wing and center. While not quite as difficult as players splitting time between forward and defense, it made things more challenging for Oshie, who hadn’t played in the middle for several years until earlier this season.
New Jersey entered 4-1-1 in its past six games. Coach Lindy Ruff had been able to keep several lines together and liked the chemistry that was developing.
“We’ve got energy back in our game,” Ruff said.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno.