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Evgeny Kuznetsov is done talking about his [expletive] stats

Evgeny Kuznetsov is done talking about his [expletive] stats

With Evgeny Kuznetsov set to return to the Capitals’ lineup on Tuesday after serving a three-game suspension, he faced the media on Monday and gave thoughtful answers on what this experience has been like.

The same player who last year said he could not challenge for the Hart Trophy because it would require him to work hard 365 days a year sounded much different talking about how sitting out three games gave him a great appreciation for being in the lineup. He also spoke on how early success in a season is not as important as building through playing the right way as a team.

Kuznetsov was saying all the right things, but if there is one thing he does not want to talk about anymore, it’s his stats.

“The last year was the 70 points year,” Kuznetsov said. “Terrible year for me, I look for bounce back.”

Despite his words, Kuznetsov’s smile and tone belied his true feelings.

Kuznetsov finished last season with 72 points in 76 games. While that would qualify as a great season for most players, Kuznetsov revealed he is not like most players during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2018. In 24 playoff games, Kuznetsov led the league with 32 points and was playing like the best player in the world. Had he won the Conn Smythe over Alex Ovechkin, it would have been hard to argue against.

Kuznetsov produced 1.33 points per game during that postseason run, but that level of production proved elusive in 2018-19. He seemed to pick up where he left off to start the season with 15 points in 10 games, but those totals were inflated by 13 power play points. His production tapered off quite a bit after that. His 72 points that season tied him for 46th in the league. He followed the season up with only one goal and five assists in seven playoff games against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Kuznetsov was being tongue-in-cheek Monday about his stats, but when pressed further on the subject and whether he felt he had another gear beyond a 72-point season, Kuznetsov vented.

“Every player who know me, they know I never focus on the goals, I never focus on the points,” Kuznetsov said. “I've been always focusing on the team game and always enjoyed the sharing the puck, having the fun during the game. But I realize in 2019 it's all about the [expletive] goals and the [expletive] assists right now. That's it. If you're making the points, that's it. You will be so cool."

On the one hand, you can understand where Kuznetsov is coming from. Distribution is a major part of the game and something in which Kuznetsov excels. There is also a lot more to hockey than points and a player can have a huge impact on a game that may not translate to the scoresheet. Most people are not 20 goals scorers after all and still have to find ways to help the team and impact a game.

On the other hand, Kuznetsov is not most people. Last year’s 72-point season is considered a down year for him because his skill level says he is capable of much more. It is no coincidence that the year the team won the Cup came when he was producing at a pace of over a point per game. That’s just how important he is to the team.

One other thing Kuznetsov is tired of hearing? That he needs to shoot more.

“If I have a chance to shoot it and my partner will be open net, I'm going to still try and pass it for him,” he said. “I'm not going to change the way I play hockey. Yes, I did some little change. I'm trying to grow as a player on the ice, but I'm not going to change the way I play on the ice. I always going to try to play for my partner, will always try to share the puck. That's how I show respect to my teammates when I'm sharing the puck like that.”

Kuznetsov will return to the Caps’ lineup on Tuesday when the team hosts the Dallas Stars. All eyes will be on him as he plays on the third line with Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik.

Whatever happens, though, don’t judge Kuznetsov’s return just on what he does on the scoresheet. That’s not what he’s focused on.

“All the people focus in on the points, right?” he said. “You get the salary from the points, but I still want to enjoy the hockey and I still want to share the puck.”

The question is, can the Caps be successful when it matters if Kuznetsov does not focus on his points?

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Should Caps' Braden Holtby, other soon-to be free agents consider skipping NHL restart?

Should Caps' Braden Holtby, other soon-to be free agents consider skipping NHL restart?

When the 2019-20 NHL season does come to a conclusion, whenever that may be, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will become a free agent shortly after. Holtby, one of the league's better netminders, is expected to earn a lucrative contract this offseason.

With all the moving parts to the resumption of the NHL season -- the league and NHLPA have yet to come to an agreement on a hub city (or cities)-- and the rising cases in coronavirus cases nationwide, it's unclear when the league will return. Training camps open on July 10, yet the NHL and NHLPA are in the midst of finalizing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that has raised questions about when the games will resume.

But, when hockey does return, it's worth wondering if Holtby should consider skipping the remainder of the season. NBC Sports Washington analyst Craig Laughlin explained on The Sports Junkies Wednesday why Holtby and other soon-to-be free agents could consider opting out of the restart.

"What happens to Braden Holtby?" Laughlin said. "Does he want to risk the opportunity to play rather than risk health, even getting injured during this time when he's up for a very lucrative long-term deal? Those are the players that may have to think about the return."

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In both the MLB and NBA, several players have decided to forgo the rest of the season due to concerns about the coronavirus. Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans, who is a free agent after this season, opted-out of the restart to preserve his health with a large payday looming. Several other NBA players have decided to skip out on Orlando, too. Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross have both declined to participate in the 2020 MLB season for the Nationals.

Yet, in hockey, it may be different. The league is resuming its season with a modified 24-team playoff, meaning there are no regular-season games remaining. With the season so close to finishing, the decision for Holtby to leave his team as they begin a Stanley Cup run could be a difficult one.

While Holtby does have personal reasons to skip out on the season's resumption, Laughlin doesn't envision him, or any other hockey players, voluntarily choosing to sit out.

RELATED: WHAT IF THE SEASON NEVER PAUSED?

"I don't think so," Laughlin said on players opting out. "I don't think that's going to happen. I think the players generally want to play. I really do think, when it's all said and done, they will all be back and participating for the Stanley Cup."

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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if the team stuck with Copley as backup goalie?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if the team stuck with Copley as backup goalie?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if the Caps stuck with Pheonix Copley as their backup goalie over Ilya Samsonov?

Often times the most important stat for a backup goalie is wins. With an established No.1 netminder, as the Caps have had in Braden Holtby, the most important job of a backup is to be able to step into the lineup and win games. If not, it forces a team to overwork its starter. Pheonix Copley was able to go 16-7-3 in 27 games for Washington in 2018-19 , his first full NHL season. Because of that, it would have been absolutely understandable had the team decided to use him as the backup behind Holtby again this season. As much as Ilya Samsonov has been heralded as the next starter of the franchise, he came into 2019-20 with zero NHL experience.

Yes, with Holtby on the final year of his contract, it was important to get Samsonov playing time this season, but this was viewed as a legitimate competition in training camp. What if Samsoinov just did not look ready yet?

The first thing that would have happened is the team would have had to make a move to clear salary. Copley's cap hit is $1.1 million, slightly higher than Samsonov's $925,000. With the team so close against the cap, once Evgeny Kuznetsov returned from suspension and Michal Kempny returned from injury, the team would not have had enough cap space with Copley on the roster. All this likely would have meant was seeing the Chandler Stephenson trade happen a lot faster than it ultimately did in December.

The impact may not have been all that different in terms of roster makeup, but the team likely would have struggled on the ice. This is not to disparage Copley who has proven himself to be a capable backup, but along with his strong record last season, he also had a .905 save percentage and 2.90 GAA. Those two numbers are not nearly as impressive. With the team struggling at times this season, that likely would have translated to more losses with Copley in net. Considering Washington ended up winning the Metropolitan Division by a single point thanks in large part to the NHL have to pause and then cancel the remainder of the regular season, the Caps would almost certainly be lower in the standings.

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Perhaps Copley would have been able to improve on his numbers and overall performance in a second NHL season, but would he have been able to give Washington the 16-6-2 record, .913 save percentage and 2.55 GAA that Samsonov provided? Probably not.

RELATED: WHAT IF THE SEASON NEVER PAUSED?

That fact is that with Holtby's contract situation, we would have seen Samsonov in the NHL at some point in the 2019-20 season and the team's struggles probably would have prompted a recall as a way to shake things up while also getting a look at what he could provide in the NHL going forward.

Copley starting the season as the backup would have delayed the inevitable Samsonov call-up that had to happen this season, regardless of how well Copley managed to play behind Holtby.

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