Evgeny Kuznetsov

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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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Kuznetsov's return comes in the nick of time for both him and the team

Kuznetsov's return comes in the nick of time for both him and the team

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the Capitals pondered what went wrong Saturday after being handed their first loss, it seemed clear the answer may have been just as much about who did not play on Saturday as the players who did.

“We just didn't execute what we wanted to do,” T.J. Oshie said of the power play after the team’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. “When you don't do that and you're not winning too many battles down low, the other team's PK's going to send a lot of pucks down the ice and that's a lot of skating for a power play unit. They got the better of us tonight, but we'll learn from it.”

The biggest issue for the team’s power play on Saturday was the break-ins into the offensive zone which should come as no surprise with Evgeny Kuznetov out.

Suspended for the first three games of the season, Kuznetsov is now slated to return to the lineup on Tuesday as the Capitals host the Dallas Stars.

Lars Eller stepped into Kuznetsov's spot at second-line center and performed well with three assists. The Caps are fortunate to have a player of his caliber who can slide into Kuznetsov’s role in his absence, but ultimately a team cannot lose a player as good as Kuznetsov and not feel his absence.

After winning the first two games, the suspension finally caught up with Washington on Saturday in the form of the power play.

In a game that could not be decided in 60 minutes, the Caps going 0-for-6 on the power play was a key factor in the loss. Kuznetsov is the primary puck-handler on the break-ins and without him, the power play on Saturday seemed out of sync. There were multiple offsides and icings as the getting past the blue line was a major struggle.

“You can't go 0-for-6 and then expect to have the outcome you want so it comes down to looking at why it was happening,” Todd Reirden said. “I thought their penalty kill worked extremely hard and were able to come up with more puck battles than we were and our entries weren't clean.”

“Obviously Kuz-mon's coming back here,” Oshie said. “I imagine he steps into that spot down there and hopefully we can get some chemistry going.”

The Caps may have earned five out of six points in the first three games, but it was clear on Saturday they were still missing Kuznetsov. As he spoke on Monday, it was clear he had missed the team just as much as they missed him.

“It's not easy to watch the games from upstairs or on the TV,” Kuznetsov said. “As the hockey player, when you play a lot of games you probably not realize how cool it is to actually go through warmup, go through all the process and play the hockey game. When you miss couple games, you start realize how much easier, much better, much cooler to play the hockey then be at the workout area.”

“It's just the three games, but for me it was like a couple months,” he added.

It likely felt the same way for Reirden.

The Caps have a brutal October schedule and losing one of the team’s top two centers for the first three games could have potentially put the team in a major hole. Washington, however, rallied to go 2-0-1 to start the season and will look to gain some momentum with Kuznetsov back.

It does not appear Kuznetsov will immediately step into a top-six role upon his return to the lineup against Dallas. He skated on the third line centering Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik during practice on Monday.

Reirden said after practice there was no significance or message to be sent by having Kuznetsov on the third line. It was just a factor of Eller playing well with Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie.

That’s just fine with Kuznetsov who said: “it's just a chance finally to get out of here from my house.”

“My job is just do not make worse,” Kuznetsov said. “Whatever the coach going to tell me to do, I just have to execute and have to play the game and whatever his plan will be for me, I just have to do it.”


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Projecting the Caps opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Projecting the Caps opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Training camp for the 2019-20 season has officially opened for the Capitals who first took to the ice on Friday.

There has been a lot of talk through the offseason and a lot of people working the “Armchair GM” tool on CapFriendly trying to figure out what the roster will look like. After hearing Todd Reirden and Brian MacLellan speak, plus seeing the team take the ice on Friday, we have at least a rough idea of what the team may be thinking in terms of lines. The news of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s suspension, plus the fact that his cap hit will not count during his suspension, also dramatically changes the roster plans for the start of the season.

There is still an entire preseason to play and a lot of questions that need to be answered, but here is an early projection for the opening night roster for the Caps based on the first few days of training camp.


Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Richard Panik Breandan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway Chandler Stephenson

Suspended: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov’s suspension frees up a significant chunk of cap space for opening night. That creates a lot of possibilities for some players who otherwise would not have made the team to stick around through the first week of the season. If there is a prospect who impresses throughout the preseason, however, this can change. A solid performance for Connor McMichael, for example, and perhaps it is not farfetched to think he could play a few games before getting sent back to juniors. As a junior player, he could play up to nine NHL games in a season without burning a year of his entry-level contract.

For now, I am going pretty vanilla with my projection and including Boyd and Stephenson

Training camp lines should always be taken with a grain of salt, but this is how the top nine has looked on the wings. At center, Kuznetsov has been skating on the second line with Vrana and Oshie with Eller on the third with Hagelin and Panik. No doubt Eller will move up to the second line in Kuznetsov’s absence.

As for the fourth line, there were two different lines skating with the likely candidates. Leipsic and Boyd were with Brett Leason -- which I would not read into, I don’t think there is any chance Leason is a serious candidate to make the team this year -- while Dowd and Hathaway were with Stephenson.

Both Stephenson and Boyd enter camp with something to prove. Frankly, if the team had faith in them to play a fourth line and penalty kill role, they would not have gone out and signed Leipsic and Hathaway.

"It's a competition,” Reirden said Thursday of Stephenson and Boyd. “They know it's a competition. They're well-informed. It's a very clear message. No one in situations where there's competition are wondering what's going on.”

The Kuznetsov suspension puts Boyd on the third line for now and gives Stephenson a second chance to prove he belongs to stay. I see Boyd primarily being an extra this season and Stephenson most likely headed to Hershey once Kuznetsov returns.


Michal Kempny - John Carlson Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas Christian Djoos

It seems doubtful that Kempny will play in the preseason, but the goal is for him to be ready for the start of the season. He has yet to skate with the team in practice, but he seems far enough along that he looks to be on pace for Oct. 2.

The Caps will eventually need to make a tough decision somewhere to shed salary and I believe that will mean moving Christian Djoos. If a team suffers an injury in training camp and wants to make a deal, I could see that happening. For now, like with many of the forwards, Kuznetsov’s suspension means the Caps have an extra week to make that decision. For now, I will keep him in the lineup, but I would not be surprised if he is playing for a different team by the start of the season.

The team is excited about prospects Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary. Alexeyev, however, is dealing with an upper-body injury and there is no timetable for when he may return to the ice. Fehervary, meanwhile, has received nothing by rave reviews. Like with the forwards, the Kuznetsov suspension could open the door for a player like Fehervary to get a game or two.


Braden Holtby Pheonix Copley

I’m not ready to predict this yet, but with Kuznetsov’s salary off the books for the first week of the season do the Caps consider keeping Samsonov and starting him against the New York Islanders in the second game of the season?

The Caps face a back-to-back with the Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes. I assume Holtby gets Carolina since it is the home opener, but what about the Islanders? Washington has to get their young goalies starts this season and Kuznetsov’s suspension gives them the ability to do so without putting Copley on waivers.

But is it too early? It’s worth watching to see how Samsonov and Vanecek play in the preseason to see if either may be ready for a quick start at the start of the season.

“We’re not going to force it,” MacLellan said. “Based on performance, we’ll evaluate it. … I’ll go with Scott Murray and we’ll see how they do in camp. We like all four of our goalies. We have four good goalies, we feel. We have a lot of depth. Vanecek played well – he was an all-star at the AHL level last year, and I’d like to see him get games. I’d like to see Samsonov get games. Copley has continued to improve, so it’s going to be a competitive situation.”