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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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Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

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USA TODAY Sports

Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

What is the one knock on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game?

You know what it is. Everybody say it with me now: He needs to shoot the puck more.

It’s no secret what fans want the talented Russian forward to do.

They yell it from the stands of Capital One Arena or when they watching the TV braodcast at home.

Heck, Barry Trotz has talked about it to the media before.

That’s what made Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks so refreshing.

With Washington down 2-1 in the third, Jakub Vrana found Kuznetsov in the slot and he buried it into the net behind Ducks goalie John Gibson. He even had Tom Wilson on the back door to pass to, but he chose instead to shoot the puck. That shows that he…wait, what’s that?

“I think Kuzy was, on his goal, I think he was trying to make one more pass,” Trotz said after the game.

No way. This is just the head coach being tongue-in-cheek, right?

Watch the replay and see for yourself:

RELATED: 5 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE DUCKS

Oh. Yeah, that was definitely a pass.

Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano reaches in to try and get his stick in the way of the shot and the puck deflects off his stick and into the net. If you watch, however, the puck was never intended to go on net. Instead, Kuznetsov was trying to get it to Wilson on the back door.

CAPS EXTRA PODCAST: GAME 34 VS. DUCKS

At this moment, Kuznetsov still has the puck on his stick, but the blade of the stick is not facing the goal. It is facing Wilson.

The fact that he has not yet released the puck at this point means he’s not aiming for the goal.

While aiming at Wilson, Cogliano’s stick gets in the way and deflects it on net.

Could Kuznetsov have gotten that puck to Wilson? Defenseman Kevin Bieksa is in the passing lane, but if anyone could thread that needle, it’s Kuznetsov. The point , however, is that passing here is the wrong decision.

Kuznetsov has the opportunity to shoot from a high-danger area. Wilson would have had a layup if Kuznetsov had gotten him the puck, but trying to pass through Bieksa is a much more difficult play. If you already have the puck in a high-danger area with an opportunity to shoot, you need to take that opportunity.

The bad news is Kuznetsov was trying to pass up a scoring chance for a more difficult play to set up a teammate. The good news is that it didn't matter. Cogliano’s effort to try to defend the shot ended up putting the puck into the back of the net thus saving Kuznetsov from making the wrong decision.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but there’s still a lesson here for Kuznetsov on why shooting the puck is the better option.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Ducks

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USA TODAY Sports

5 reasons the Caps beat the Ducks

This game was not going the Caps' way through two periods. Everything changed in the final frame, however, as the Capitals rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime. Alex Ovechkin did the rest in a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

Here's how the Caps were able to rally for the win.

Braden Holtby  holding the goal line late in the second (about 4:10 left)

Washington trailed 2-0 in the second and the Ducks were looking for more late. A shot from Derek Grant on the left went wide and hit off the backboards right to Dennis Rasmussen who tried to stuff the puck on Holtby's right. Holtby dove to cover the goal line. Critically, his goal stick stuck out past the post and neither Rasmussen nor Logan Shaw could get the puck past the stick to get the puck to the front and stuff it in. Once the puck finally did squirt free into the crease, Hotlby gloved it. A 3-0 deficit may have been lights out for Washington.

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Nicklas Backstrom's early third period goal

Trying to overcome a two-goal deficit in one period is a daunting task. Every second that ticks by makes your comeback bid harder. The fact that Nicklas Backstrom was able to strike just over three minutes into the third period was absolutely critical. Backstrom was able to net a rebound off of an Alex Ovechkin shot just over three minutes into the third period. The Caps went from a two-goal deficit to trailing by one with 17 minutes remaining. Suddenly, that mountain they had to climb did not seem so high.

A lucky tip or a veteran call?

If you've been yelling for Evgeny Kuznetsov to shoot the puck more, you were probably pleased with his third period goal to tie the game at two. With Tom Wilson open on the backdoor, Kuznetsov chose to call his own number and fired a shot past Gibson. Or did he? Was Kuznetsov trying to pass that puck? Take a look at the replay.

Just at the last second, Andrew Cogliano hits either the puck or the stick of Kuznetsov. Whether he meant to pass and it was a lucky break or he was thinking shot the whole way, it worked out for the Caps.

WATCH: ALEX OVECHKIN'S OVERTIME WINNER OVER ANAHEIM

Braden Holtby's two early saves on Rickard Rakell in overtime

Rakell wanted the Ducks to win this game. Less than a minute into overtime, he had a lane to shoot on Holtby. Holtby made the initial save, but the rebound bounced to the faceoff circle. Both of the trailing players in red skated past. Holtby took a step forward to try to clear the puck from danger, but then saw Rakell had a step on him to collect his own rebound. He stopped, then kicked out the pad to make an incredible save to deny Rakell again about 10 feet out of the crease.

Alex Ovechkin's bullet

Sometimes when you play against a player like Ovechkin, there's nothing you can do. At the end of his shift, Ovechkin elected to carry the puck into the offensive zone rather than passing it off to change up. He was forced to the boards by Brandon Montour and decided just to tee-up the mini slap shot. When you're the greatest goal scorer of a generation, however, even a shot from the top of the faceoff circle near the boards is a dangerous shot.