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With four assists in Game 4, Evgeny Kuznetsov has gone next level for the Caps

With four assists in Game 4, Evgeny Kuznetsov has gone next level for the Caps

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s remarkable postseason continued in Game 4 with a four-assist performance that’s helped propel the Caps within one win of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

But Kuzy’s scintillating performance Monday night wasn’t just timely, it was also historic.

Consider:

  • Kuznetsov’s four helpers matched a single-game Stanley Cup Final record, achieved by 11 other players. The last time it happened? Colorado’s Joe Sakic did it in Game 2 of the 1996 Final.
  • The four assists also equaled a Caps’ single-game playoff record, previously set by Scott Stevens in Game 6 of the 1988 Patrick Division Final and Andrei Nikolishin in Game 3 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Final.

Indeed, it was a great game for Kuznetsov. But it shouldn’t have come as a surprise given how good he’s been throughout these playoffs. When it’s all said and done, No. 92’s performance this spring will go down as one of the most dominant in recent decades and among the best ever for a Russian born player.

Check out these numbers:

  • With 12 goals and 19 assists for a postseason-leading 31 points (in 23 games), Kuznetsov is just the fifth player since 1997 to register 30 or more points in a single playoffs. Evgeni Malkin is atop that list with 36 points in 2009, while Kuznetsov and Sidney Crosby (2009) are tied for second with 31.
  • Kuznetsov is five points clear of teammate and fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin (14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points) and can become just the third Russian to lead the postseason in points in the league’s modern era. Sergei Fedorov did it in 1995 and Malkin accomplished the feat in 2009 and 2017.

Head Coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday that Kuznetsov has embraced the big stage and taken his game to the next level in recent weeks.

“The glare of Ovi probably has dimmed Kuzy’s light, if you will,” he said. “But in the playoffs, you don’t know how guys are going to perform, good or bad. Kuzy has elevated his game. It’s not surprising when you see his ability, his I.Q., his skill level.”

“And now,” Trotz continued, “he’s brought that pride of playing in really tough games [to] the most meaningful games you can play in. He’s been outstanding.”

Kuznetsov has been a superstar in the making for some time now. After these playoffs, though, there’s no doubt that he’ll be a household name.

“You can make a name for yourself in the playoffs,” Trotz said. “And he’s definitely doing that.”  

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Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly

Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s quarterfinal matchup:

Region: Capitals free agents

Brett Connolly vs. Devante Smith-Pelly
 
2018-19 stats

Brett Connolly (27 years old): 81 games played with the Capitals, 22 goals, 24 assists, 46 points, 13:20 TOI
 
Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 0 assists, 4 points, 13:50 TOI

Devante Smith-Pelly (27 years old): 54 games played with the Capitals, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, 10:51 TOI

Playoffs: 3 games played with the Caps, no goals, no assists, no points, 9:47 TOI

 
Hockey-Graph contract projections

Brett Connolly: 3 years, $3,536,091 cap hit
 
Devante Smith-Pelly: 2 years, $1,149,369

The case for Brett Connolly

The Capitals have already re-signed one of their third-line free agents with Carl Hagelin’s new deal. Is there room left for Connolly? Connolly has made himself comfortable in Washington. He tied his career highs in goals twice (15) and then broke through with a career-best 22. And he is one of the league’s most productive players given his limited ice time. 
 
There are just too many big names in front of Connolly to get him much power-play time. Those 22 goals wouldn’t be easy to replace and GM Brian MacLellan said scoring depth is a concern this offseason. If he is again willing to sacrifice role for a bump in pay and some security then maybe Connolly returns to a place he re-ignited his career. The talent is certainly there as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 draft and Connolly is headed into his age-27 season so a three or four-year deal takes care of his prime years. 
 
But the argument ultimately rests on the salary cap, which at $81.5 million is problematic. It might be out of Washington’s hands anyway. Even if the Capitals want to keep him, other teams could use money AND ice time to entice Connolly. But can they strike gold again with another cheap third-line winger as they did with Connolly? That’s not easy to replicate. They could simply sign Connolly and take care of it, but the salary cap is tight.

The case for Smith-Pelly

There is no question that Smith-Pelly can be inconsistent, but he always seems to bring it in the playoffs. Before his seven-goal performance in the 2018 Cup run, Smith-Pelly was brilliant with the Anaheim Ducks scoring five goals in 12 games back in 2014.

With Carl Hagelin re-signed and players like Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos and other depth pieces still on the horizon, affordability is pretty much the biggest asset for any free agent available to Washington and it won’t get much more affordable than Smith-Pelly.

Hockey-Graphs can be spot on with some of its projections and outright wrong for others and this case is definitely the latter. Smith-Pelly’s contract for the 2018-19 season was a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1 million. After scoring just eight points and getting demoted to the AHL, there is no way he walks into next season with a two-year deal and a raise. The cap hit is going to be low for Smith-Pelly and that makes him a very attractive choice for the Caps – if both sides can put last year’s awkwardness behind them. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here. 

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Capitals announce full 2019-2020 schedule

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USA TODAY sports images

Capitals announce full 2019-2020 schedule

The Capitals formally announced their 2019-2020 schedule, and there are plenty of games to circle on the calendar.

Early last week, the NHL announced the Caps would open their season on the road against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, and that during the preseason they'd take on the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks and Blues.

Here are the games we're circling on our schedule for the upcoming season:

Home Opener

The Caps will take on the Carolina Hurricanes, who eliminated them from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, in their home opener on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.

Jack Hughes watch

The Caps take on number one overall pick Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban and the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Prudential Center.

Crosby and company

The rival Pittsburgh Penguins don't take on the Caps until Feb. 2nd for a matinee smackdown at 12:30 p.m.

Road tripping

Washington will take to the road early for their California road trip in early December. They take on the San Jose Sharks Dec. 3, the Los Angeles Kings Dec. 4 and the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 6.

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