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Evgeny Kuznetsov eager to shoulder more responsibility after signing eight year extension

Evgeny Kuznetsov eager to shoulder more responsibility after signing eight year extension

Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov says he welcomes the pressure that comes along with the eight-year, $62.4 million contract extension that he signed this summer.

The deal carries a cap hit of $7.8 million, which is the second highest on the Caps behind captain Alex Ovechkin. It also ranks as the 11th highest cap hit among all NHL centers.

“I feel more responsibility on me right now,” Kuznetsov said, “and that’s what I need.”

Kuznetsov possesses all of the skills and instincts a team could want in a top-six pivot. The challenge for him, though, has been producing at a clip commensurate with his immense ability for an entire 82-game regular season and the playoffs. For example, last season the 25-year-old started slowly, was named the NHL’s player of the month during a torrid January, cooled off a bit down the stretch, then was the team’s third most productive player in the postseason, racking up five goals and five assists in 13 games.

RELATED: WHY MADISON BOWEY IS SO IMPORTANT TO THE CAPS THIS SEASON

In order to take the next step, he can’t afford sluggish starts and late season lulls.        

“I want the people to ask more from me,” he said. “And at the same time, they give me more opportunity to show more.”

Kuznetsov returned to Washington on Monday along with fellow Russians Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov. The trio has been on the ice for the team’s informal skates the past two days as they ramp up for the start of training camp in mid-September.

“Two years ago, I practiced all summer here,” Kuznetsov said, asked why he chose to arrive earlier than many of his teammates. “Then last year we have to be back home for World Cup.”

“This year,” he said with a smile, “I kinda stayed a little bit more [at] home. My wife wants this, so it’s kind of an easy decision.”

It’s been a summer of highs (signing the mega extension) and lows (watching a handful of key veterans depart) for Kuznetsov. On Wednesday, he skated alongside former teammate Marcus Johansson, who was dealt to New Jersey in July to accommodate the $139 million in extensions the Caps handed out to himself, T.J. Oshie and Orlov.

“It’s always tough when some friends and your teammates leave to other team,” Kuznetsov said. “But that’s the way of hockey, part of the business. The good thing [is] we all keep being friends, you know? We all understand that’s part of the business.”

On the flip side, Kuznetsov said he’s looking forward to a more competitive environment in camp as new players and prospects jockey for jobs. With the departure of forwards Justin Williams, Johansson and Daniel Winnik as well as defensemen Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk, there could be as many as five spots up for grabs.

“I feel good for the young guys,” Kuznetsov said. “They know right now they have a couple of spots to fill. That’s always good challenge in training camp—when your young guys know they have a chance to play in the NHL, they are going to work hard.”

Kuznetsov, on the other hand, has arguably more security than any other Capital these days, allowing him to focus solely on being the best player he can be.

“Whenever summer is coming and you’re without deal, you have to think about some other things—it’s always tough,” he said. Now “I feel comfortable here. I love the city. I knew before I signed that I want to stay here.”

MORE CAPITALS: A slimmer looking Ovechkin returned to practice Tuesday

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Prediction recap: No one saw Tuesday's defensive matchup coming

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Prediction recap: No one saw Tuesday's defensive matchup coming

Well…that certainly did not go the way many thought. With two of the best offenses squaring off against two questionable defenses, the goals were expected to come fast and furious on Tuesday between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead, Braden Holtby and Frederik Andersen allowed only one goal between them on the night with Toronto adding and empty netter for the exclamation point in a 2-0 win over the Caps.

So this was a game that did not go at all the way anyone expected. With that in mind, let’s go over the predictions!

RELATED: WHEN THE OFFENSE WENT SILENT, HERE ARE THE CAPS WHO STOOD OUT ON DEFENSE

Fan predictions:

Wrong

After allowing eight goals to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps did a good job stifling one of the NHL’s bright young talents. Matthews only managed one shot on goal for the game.

Wrong

After a strong start for the Caps’ offense, no one was able to get one past, least of all Andre Burakovsky despite four shots on goal and seven total shot attempts.

Push

There was no overtime and I really liked just how bold this prediction was, so I will give it a push.​

JJ’s predictions:

Both teams will combine for at least 10 goals – Wrong

I was close though, only eight goals short.

Evgeny Kuznetsov will score a goal – Wrong

Had Kuznetsov shot the puck before he was caught on the backcheck on his power play opportunity in the second period, I may very well have gotten this one right. But Kuznetsov once again resorted to the bad habit of waiting too long to get the shot off and it turned a great opportunity into a much more manageable one for Andersen.

Toronto will outshoot Washington by at least 10 shots – Wrong

Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Caps had only managed to outshoot their opponents once in six games. Toronto had been held to fewer than 31 shots only once in five games. So what happened? The Caps and Leafs each managed 30 shots on goal. Go figure.

MORE CAPITALS: TYLER GRAOVAC'S GAME ENDED EARLY ON TUESDAY, HERE'S WHY

Scoreboard:

Fans
Correct: 0
Wrong: 2
Push: 1

JJ
Correct: 0
Wrong: 3
Push: 0

Both the fans and I are off to a roaring start. Better luck next game.

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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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.

RELATED: WHO STOOD OUT BETWEEN CAPS-LEAFS

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!”

MORE CAPITALS: A SHORTHANDED CAPS TEAM SUFFERED AN EARLY INJURY AGAINST TORONTO