Evgeny Kuznetsov

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You aren't alone—Trotz thought Kuznetsov was going to shoot, too

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You aren't alone—Trotz thought Kuznetsov was going to shoot, too

No, you weren’t the only person wondering what Evgeny Kuznetsov was thinking when he passed up a prime scoring chance in overtime against Arizona.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz was befuddled by No. 92’s decision, too.

Asked if he’d like to see Kuznetsov shoot the puck more, Trotz joked on Friday morning: “Yeah, absolutely. Especially when he’s in the blue paint.”

“I was ready to jump up because I thought he was sticking it in the net,” Trotz continued. “Then all of a sudden it was in the corner.”

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As you can see, Kuznetsov wasn’t actually in the blue paint. But he was close enough that he shouldn’t have attempted to finish a give-and-go with T.J. Oshie, either.

As it turned out, Kuzy’s odd decision didn’t end up costing the Caps because John Carlson scored the game-winner a short while later. The decision did, however, lead to a broader discussion of whether Kuznetsov needs to get a little more selfish and use his dangerous shot more often.

“I think what it does when he does shoot [is] it will open up his wingers for him, too, because everyone is shading to the wingers right now because they think he’s just looking for his wingers,” Trotz said. “He’s just got to shoot a little bit more. Be more of a threat.”

“He’s a threat gaining the zone,” he added. “He’s a threat when he gets to the top of the circles and then he’s looking to dish a little bit. And he can shoot the puck. I use his stick, so I know. He’s learned from me. No, he can really shoot it and he’s accurate.” 

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As the Caps prepare to host the rival Penguins, Kuznetsov is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in points with 18 (3 goals, 15 assists). In shots, though, he’s third with 37, behind Ovechkin (league-best 78) and Carlson (55). Kuznetsov’s shot total is tied for 116th in the NHL.

In addition to giving Kuznetsov a ribbing about passing from the slot, Trotz also gave his star center, who has never scored more than 20 times in a season, a new goal to shoot for this year.

“You need him to be a 25 goal scorer every year, not a 10-goal scorer,” Trotz said. “You need 25 out of him and he’s very capable of that. So yeah, absolutely, we want him to shoot more.”

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How Evgeny Kuznetsov could have changed Tuesday's outcome

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How Evgeny Kuznetsov could have changed Tuesday's outcome

With the score tied at 0 in the second period, the Caps had a chance to put the first goal on the board on their second power play of the night. Specifically, Evgeny Kuznetsov had a chance to score the first goal of the game and his first of the season. But with a golden opportunity on his stick, Kuznetsov waited too long to shoot the puck the opportunity was lost. It is an issue that has seemingly plagued Kuznetsov throughout his career and one that may have cost the Caps a chance at two points on Tuesday.

After a scrum in the left corner, the puck was fed over to John Carlson on the right near the blue line. With some room to work with, he advanced to the top of the right circle and then fired a pass cross-ice to Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov had set up shop in Alex Ovechkin’s office in the left faceoff circle and the Leafs evidently forgot about him.

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With the puck on his stick and no one between him and Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen, Kuznetsov waited. He waited so long in fact that forward Connor Brown was able to backcheck and turned what would have been a very good opportunity into a much easier save for Andersen.

“A guy caught him,” Barry Trotz said after the game. “Just get it off quick. Guys close quick on you defensively.”

Would Kuznetsov have scored if he had fired the shot? Would the Caps have won if he had scored? We don’t know, but Kuznetsov would have had a better chance at scoring had he shot the puck quickly and Washington would have been in a better position to win if they had gotten the first goal on the board.

It was just another moment that made fans watching in Capital One Arena and at home yell in unison, “Kuznetsov, shoot the puck!”

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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov

The Caps showed exactly what Evgeny Kuznetsov means to them by giving the budding star an eight-year, $62.4 million contract over the summer. The team has a top center in Nicklas Backstrom, but Kuznetsov has the talent and ability to be a top center and this contract ensures he will one day take that mantle from the 29-year-old Backstrom.

Kuznetsov's NHL career has already seen its ups and downs. The 2015 postseason looked like a breakout performance for the young Russian with five goals and two assists including the series-clinching goal in Game 7 against the New York Islanders. He followed that up with a 77-point season, but fell silent in the playoffs with only two points in 12 games. He started the 2016-17 season slow, but erupted in January and was named the NHL's first star of the month and was able to score 10 points in the 2017 postseason.

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So what Kuznetsov should fans expect to see this season? That will depend somewhat on how he's used and who plays beside him. One issue facing him is the fact that he lost not one, but both of his wingers from last year's second line. Gone are Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams so Kuznetsov will have to adjust to playing alongside two different players. But will he be adjusting on the second line or the first?

Based on the contract Washington just gave Kuznetsov, it's clear they see him as someone with top-line talent. They have also seen the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup the past two years by spreading their through the lineup. They could perhaps decide to move to Kuznetsov on the top line this season or they could keep him on the second line and move Alex Ovechkin down to play on the wing. Or they could switch Backstrom and Kuznetsov based on the situation. Or they could do none of those things and just have Kuznetsov play with Andre Burakovsky or Jakub Vrana/Tom Wilson.

Whether it is this year or in the near future, clearly the Caps see Kuznetsov as a top playmaker. The 2016 postseason also showed this team cannot be successful if he does not produce. He is incredibly important to the Capitals and now he has the contract to prove it.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen