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Capitals react to Evgeny Kuznetsov cocaine use and IIHF suspension

Capitals react to Evgeny Kuznetsov cocaine use and IIHF suspension

There was a notable absence from Capitals media day on Thursday. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov, suspended four years from international hockey for a positive cocaine test, wasn’t there to explain what happened during his tumultuous summer. It remains unclear if the NHL can discipline Kuznetsov for lying during an investigation after a video surfaced on social media showing Kuznetsov in a room with a powdery white substance that appeared to be cocaine. That video came out on May 27.  

Once the International Ice Hockey Federation suspended Kuznetsov June 13 for testing positive for cocaine on May 26, the day of the bronze medal game between Russia and the Czech Republic at the World Championships, the incident took on a different context. 

The NHL treats cocaine as a “drug of abuse” and pushes treatment, not punishment. Lying to the league and the Capitals during an investigation? That could be a different matter. For now, Washington and Kuznetsov wait for word. General manager Brian MacLellan wasn’t ready to say Kuznetsov’s drug use had any impact on his sometimes erratic play last season when he dropped to 72 points.

“That’s hard to say. You’d have to ask him that,” MacLellan said. “There’s no indication that those are correlated. It could’ve had an effect, or other stuff could’ve had an effect.”

You wouldn’t blame management or teammates for wondering, though. Kuznetsov has done all the right things this summer. He arrived back in Washington weeks before most of the organization’s other European players. He is taking part in the education and treatment options offered by the NHL Players Association. His teammates have noted all of that. 

“I don’t know, I mean, I made mistakes in my past. I missed a practice once and you know got in some trouble and I addressed the team,” T.J. Oshie said. “And sometimes it gets a little emotional, but I think Kuzy is a great guy. I think he’s a good teammate and he’s fun to play with, I sit next to him in the locker room during games. He’s a good person so I don’t think he has to say much to us. If he does, I think people will appreciate it, but he doesn’t have to say anything to me, that’s for sure. We want him to be good.”

That was a common theme from teammates throughout the day as they came out one after another for interviews. They professed support, not condemnation. If they wonder or worry if the drug affected Kuznetsov on the ice last season no one said that or even hinted at it. Most agreed with Oshie that even a team explanation was not necessary. 

“His mind is where he should (be) with training camp tomorrow,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “It’s very unfortunate what happened, but at the same time for us as friends I think it’s really important we support him no matter what and we’re going to fight this together as a family here.”

Ovechkin, his fellow Russian, called Kuznetsov after news of the suspension broke in August just to make sure his friend was okay, to let him know if he needed help. He, too, sees no need for an apology in front of the team. Consider it a hard lesson learned. 

“Not as the captain, as a friend and a close friend, I think we should support him,” Ovechkin said. “[Kuznetsov] realize he makes mistake. Everybody makes mistake in life, you guys as well. Sometimes the best thing is just support him and be at his side and don’t leave him alone. I think all other things you have to be with him and when it’s a hard moment you have to stay together.”  

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T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie is no stranger to success in shootouts, especially in big games. Namely, his performance in the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Russia earned him that reputation.

If the shootout style was ever brought to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL, there's a chance that Oshie's name would once again be called upon. However, the Capital isn't set on that scenario becoming a reality. 

As of now, playoff matchups head into as many overtimes as needed rather than a shootout. While that can be draining for players, Oshie believes it is a more genuine way to determine results in the postseason. Hockey is a sport that forces a team to come together as a whole, and he feels that shootouts take that away.

“Selfishly I’d love to see it. But I just look back and see some of the games that went to five overtimes and played past midnight," Oshie told NHL on NBC during a re-airing of his performance in the 2014 Olympics. “In the playoffs you need everyone on the ice, everyone doing their job. The shootout just feels a little bit more one-on-one.”

"So I don’t think it has a place in playoffs," he added.

As Oshie noted, he could see the fun and excitement in having shootouts in the playoffs due to his personal success experiences in those moments. Yet, his time in postseason runs, including Washington's 2018 championship has given him a larger perspective on the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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The Capitals' Stanley Cup run was filled with grueling moments, but the success came from the team's effort altogether. Individual performances sparked big moments, but the Capitals were only as good as the sum of all their parts. To take that away in the biggest of moments is something that Oshie sees as wrong for the sport and the players who worked hard to get there.

“It’s just, after winning, I think you realize how much you need everybody playing well and so I think everyone deserves to play in those big moments," Oshie said.

So, while Oshie loves participating in late-game heroics, he'll take his chance at an overtime goal rather than a shootout. He does, however, understand that the continuation of the golden goal format could lead to more games with multiple extra periods. Though he is okay with those happening in place of a shootout, he also knows that he probably just talked himself into a lot more of those situations in the future.

“Watch I’ll go to like a five-overtime game and be dying an need an IV," Oshie joked. "And maybe change my tune.”

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T.J. Oshie had no nerves entering shootout with Russia in 2014 Sochi Olympics

T.J. Oshie had no nerves entering shootout with Russia in 2014 Sochi Olympics

As the United States and Russia entered the shootout period of the 2014 Olympic Games preliminary matchup tied 2-2, there was plenty of tension and nerves in Sochi.

T.J. Oshie, who was sent out for the first attempt, had the right to be as nervous as anyone. Skating on to the ice, he had the weight of a nation on his shoulders in a game that carried a history stemming from the Miracle on Ice. Yet, Oshie was as cool as the ground he was on. Rather than thinking about any outside noise, his only focus was on what he was going to do with the puck.

“Just my move. There probably wasn’t a time I was more confident than my first shot. I knew off the hop that I wanted to go five hole and that’s really all I had my mind made up for," Oshie told NHL on NBC during the re-airing of the infamous game on Saturday. "The first shot I was ready to go. I was excited to go out there and shoot first and put us up one.”

Oshie did just that on his first shot, giving the United States early momentum in the shootout. He would once again have his name called upon for the fourth attempt of the period. Though he was no longer setting the tone for the entire period, this is where Oshie more pressure.

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It wasn't solely because of the situation, but rather because he didn't want to lose the opportunity to shoot again down the line.

“I was most nervous for my second one because I felt if I missed I wouldn’t be going anymore," Oshie said.

He did miss the shot, but it was not the end for him. Rules allowed the U.S. to send the same player out there for each of the following rounds if they wanted, and head coach Dan Bylsma opted to stick with Oshie.

The rest is history, as in the eighth round Oshie's ability to find the back of the net ended up being the game-winner for the United States.

Despite the circumstances, Oshie never felt too nervous throughout the shootout period. Remaining calm and focusing on what he needed to do with his stick, he helped etch a spot for himself in the most memorable moments the sport of hockey has had to offer.

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