Capitals forward Jakub Vrana has come into his own.
It’s hard to gather any other conclusion after three goals in Vrana’s past two games. He scored twice against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday and had another to tie the game in the second period of an eventual 4-2 victory against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.
That’s a good sign for the 2014 first-round pick, who has found a home at left wing on the second line – first playing alongside center Nicklas Backstrom and now Evgeny Kuznetsov. Vrana sits at 9 goals, which is just three less than his rookie year total (13). With 17 points he is well on his way to setting a new career high after 27 last season.
That’s been necessary production for Washington, which hasn’t always been able to rely on 2013 first-round pick Andre Burakovsky. He did score the game-winner on Thursday. Alex Ovechkin added an empty-net tally. But Burakovsky’s scoring (five goals, three assists) has been limited and injuries to Kuznetsov (concussion) and T.J. Oshie (concussion) have left a void Vrana has helped fill.
Yeah it’s tough with the injuries we have a little bit more [responsibility] here,” Vrana told reporters in Glendale, Arizona after the game. “We think we’re handling it really good. We’re creating chances every game, playing some strong games. It’s good for our confidence going forward.”
Vrana read the play right when a loose puck bounced to him in the slot at 5:27 of the second period. A pass from behind the net from Kuznetsov hopped over Brett Connolly’s stick and Vrana was there to hammer it past goalie Adin Hill to tie the game 1-1.
Vrana could have had his second consecutive two-goal game. With the game tied 2-2, he had a breakaway just 16 seconds into the third period. Matt Niskanen – who himself had a goal – took an Arizona turnover and sent a pass up ice anticipating Vrana could use his speed to get behind the Coyotes. He was correct. But Vrana missed wide on the backhand. He did get a second chance with a penalty shot awarded for a slight hook by Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton, but didn’t even get a shot off on Hill.
No matter. Burakovsky’s goal at 15:18 put the Caps ahead for good and Alex Ovechkin added an empty-netter – his 21stof the season. And Vrana took yet another step forward in a season that looks more and more like a breakthrough at age 22. He’s built on the promising signs shown in last year’s Stanley Cup playoff run.
“I’ve really like Jakub’s game the whole year just because of his consistency,” Caps coach Todd Reirden. “He’s just really maturing in front of our own eyes here. Much better pro than he has been in the past…He’s doing a lot of things to help us win games. That line has played well and [Kuznetsov] and him do some things well when we pair them together. Another good game for him.”
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