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Caps hope Datsyuk's magic rubs off on Kuznetsov

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Caps hope Datsyuk's magic rubs off on Kuznetsov

A little more than three years ago, just before turning 20, Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov was given the opportunity to play alongside Russian star Pavel Datsyuk in the 2012 World Championships.

A few months later, in an interview with a web magazine in his native Chelyabinsk, Kuznetsov praised the Detroit Red Wings center for his extraordinary skills and determination.

“He may not score 100 goals a year, but when he’s out on the ice, he just humiliates you,” Kuznetsov said back then. “He sees everything, he can tie his opponent’s shoelaces with one hand. It seems like he never even gets tired. I was happy to play against him, and it was a real honor to play with him.”

Tonight in Detroit (8 p,m., NBCSN), Kuznetsov will line up against the 37-year-old ‘Magic Man” in a match of youth versus guile. Kuznetsov, now 23, remembers watching Datsyuk when he returned to play for Dynamo Moscow during the 2004-05 lockout. Kuznetsov was 12 years old at the time.

“I will be excited to play against Pavel and see how he plays,” Kuznetsov said Tuesday before boarding a flight to Detroit. “How he can play in the back end is fun to watch but it’s also lots of work. He can do it all. Win faceoffs, play D zone, he can be hard guy, he can hit you. He can do everything on the ice and you have to work hard to beat him.”

Now in his 14th NHL season, Datsyuk, who missed the first 14 games of the season with ruptured tendons in his right ankle, enters tonight’s game with 869 points in 890 NHL games (all with the Red Wings) and is considered one of the best all-around players Russia has ever produced.

“Obviously, he’s a top guy,” said Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin. “A tough center. I play against him and he has unbelievable skill. It’s going to be a great game for us. I don’t think we played good the last couple games so it’s a good time for us to bounce back.”

Although Kuzentsov is still very early in his NHL career, Capitals coach Barry Trotz says he sees similarities between Datsyuk and his young center, who has 17 points in his first 16 games this season.

As coach of the Nashville Predators, Trotz estimates he has seen Datsyuk play about 100 times against him and says he is one of his favorite players to watch on the opposition.

“The intangibles about Pavel Datsyuk is that he plays and competes at a really high level and he doesn’t give up on any play. And he plays with a lot of joy in the game, he loves to play the game. Those two factors, combined with his hockey IQ and his skill level make him a very elite player.

“Kuzy has all the skill qualities and he’s learned the defensive side of the game. The trick for Kuz is that he’s just starting out. The thing that’s comparable is that they both have very high skill levels and they both have a lot of joy in their game.

“It’s the grind, competing at that level every day that’s necessary to have success. I think Pav probably had to learn that as a young man. He’s got it down pat now and Kuzy is growing in that area. Who knows? I know they have a little bit of a relationship and Pavel has probably been a real good, strong influence on Kuzy’s game.

“Hopefully, it can continue to grow. I think Kuzy recognizes the greatness in a guy like Pavel Datsyuk. I think Pavel gets as much respect as any Russian player who has ever played the game.”

So much so that Kuznetsov says he can only hope to someday be nearly as good as Datsyuk is now.

“I’m too far from him and I have to work every day,” Kuznetsov said. “I may never be like Pavel, but I want to be and have some of his skills. I’m excited for him to come back and play hockey, but I want to focus on our game because we need the points.”

RELATED: Galiev willing to wait his turn with Capitals

 

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Capitals are shaking up the coaching staff in Hershey

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The Hershey Bears

Capitals are shaking up the coaching staff in Hershey

The contracts of Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann and Bears assistant coach Ryan Murphy will not be renewed for next season, the Capitals announced Wednesday. Hershey finished in last place in the Atlantic Division and did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“Troy is a dedicated and hard-working coach and we appreciate all he has done for the Hershey Bears,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “At this point, we feel a fresh approach and a change in leadership is needed in order for us to continue to develop our young players towards the next level and for success at the AHL level. We also want to thank Ryan for his contributions to the Hershey Bears and wish him all the best.”

Just two seasons ago, the Bears under Mann were playing the Calder Cup Finals where they lost in four games to the Lake Erie Monsters. Mann served as an assistant coach for Hershey from 2009-2013 and was hired as the head coach in 2014. He led the Bears to a record of 162-102-22-18 during his tenure, good for sixth all-time among Hershey coaches in wins.

Mann coached several current Capitals players in Hershey including Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Philipp Grubauer, among others. Hershey also currently boasts several of the Caps' biggest prospects such as Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, Riley Barber and Jonas Siegenthaler.

Murphy was with the Bears for all four years of Mann's tenure. He started in video development in Mann's first season and was promoted to assistant coach the following year.

“We’d like to thank Troy Mann and Ryan Murphy for their contributions to the Hershey Bears organization,” said Hershey vice president of hockey operations, Bryan Helmer. “While we are looking to move our hockey club forward, today is certainly an emotional day. I had the pleasure of working with both Troy and Ryan behind the bench for two seasons, and consider them to be great people. We wish both all the best in future endeavors.”

Coaching in the AHL is a tough job as coaches are expected to bring the team success while also developing their NHL club's prospects. There are times when the two goals do not necessarily line up which can make it a difficult balance.

Considering how important it is to develop talent from within, AHL coaches are very significant parts of an organization. Getting the right guy in charge of Hershey won't just boost the AHL team, but will help the Caps down the line with developed players.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: And so we meet again

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: And so we meet again

We all knew this was coming, right?

The Capitals will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs for the third consecutive season and for the 11th time in franchise history. Washington has only beaten Pittsburgh once in their previous 10 series. This season gives them the opportunity to get over the second round and Pittsburgh hump once and for all.

Will this year be different? Will the Caps finally take down their arch nemesis? Will they finally advance to the conference final?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps-Penguins matchup in the Capitals Faceoff Podcast.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page