ARLINGTON, Va. -- In a team sport, every mistake a player makes affects the team. On Saturday, the news came out that Evgeny Kuznetsov misleading the NHL about cocaine usage and his subsequent failed IIHF drug test will now cost the Capitals one of their top centers for the first three games of the season. It is a tough blow for a team in a highly competitive division facing a brutal October schedule.
Kuznetsov’s actions have put the team at a disadvantage to start the season, but despite that, his teammates remain unwaveringly supportive.
“It's not easy moment for him and for his family, but it is what it is right now,” Dmitry Orlov said of Kuznetsov’s suspension. “He cannot do anything about that now. He's going to sit for three games and then come back and we're going to help him and support him. He's still our friend, our teammate. He should move forward past that, forget it and just focus on this season.”
With the support, however, also comes the reality that the team is going to have to find a way to win without him.
“The team has kind of accepted that and it's going to be a huge loss for us through the first three games,” Chandler Stephenson said.
The schedule makers did Washington no favors with their first three games as the Caps start on the road in St. Louis where the Blues will raise their Stanley Cup banner, then play in New York for the Islanders’ home-opener before the home-opener in Washington on the second night of the back-to-back.
Those are three tough games in a schedule that is not advantageous for Washington and now they have to navigate it without Kuznetsov.
“You never want to lose a player like [Kuznetsov] out of your lineup, whether it's the positive light that he brings to the rink or his skill and ability to take over games,” T.J. Oshie said. “But we've got some guys that'll step in and try to do a good job and try to get some wins without him.
“I think we're comfortable with whoever's in there,” Oshie added, “So for those three games whoever happens to be in there whether it's Lars or whoever they slot in there, we'll be comfortable with it, but we'll always miss Kuzy being in the middle.”
With Kuznetsov out, Lars Eller will move up to the second line. The major question mark now is who centers the third line for those three games? The likely candidate is Travis Boyd who entered the league as a center before being used primarily as a winger. With all the offseason acquisitions, Boyd is considered someone who has to re-earn his spot in training camp.
The extra cap space the team has with Kuznetsov out the first week could also potentially open up some possibilities for younger players the team otherwise would not have been able to afford, guys like Connor McMichael.
With all due respect, losing Kuznetsov and gaining a player who is fighting to stay on the NHL roster or an 18-year-old prospect is a pretty dramatic drop-off.
Even if those first three games are a struggle, however, the team is not focusing on that. The players are ready to get through those three games, move on and support their teammate.
“It's unfortunate for us,” Oshie said. “I'm sure he's pretty upset about it. We'll get through the three games and welcome him back with open arms.”
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