WASHINGTON—Although Thursday’s game was decided in the shootout, the Capitals’ night took a sharp turn for the worse much earlier.
Moments into the second period, Evgeny Kuznetsov attempted a behind-the-back pass in the defensive zone that landed … right on the stick of PA Parenteau, who sniped the puck from the slot past Braden Holtby to put the Devils ahead 1-0.
It’s hard to figure out what Kuznetsov was thinking. Based on replays, it appeared that he was trying to make a fancy pass to Matt Niskanen. But instead of connecting with Niskanen, the puck ended up going between Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov.
“I just thought that was very careless,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re in our zone, we win the faceoff and you’re going to throw a little blind pass? Secure the puck and live to fight another day.”
Indeed, Kuznetsov had several options. He could have skated the puck behind the net. He could have rimmed it around the boards. Instead, he picked option No. 3: egregious D-zone turnover.
Kuznetsov almost immediately realized his mistake as he put his gloved hands on his helmet as if to say, ‘I messed up.’
Trotz said he was mostly pleased with the Caps’ puck management all night. With, of course, the one exception.
“I was really upset with that pass because it was unnecessary, I felt,” Trotz said.
Kuznetsov did not speak to reporters after the game.
What’s most troubling about Kuznetsov’s turnover wasn’t the timing (scoreless game) or location (D-zone), it’s that lately he’s been committing costly turnovers too often.
Just last Wednesday in Philly, the 24-year-old Russian tried a bounce pass off the boards that went straight to Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who wasted no time depositing it behind Holtby. Trotz said after that game that the puck had taken an unfortunate bounce off a seam in the boards. And while that might have been the case, Kuznetsov had other, safer options available to him.
So that’s twice in the span of a little more than a week that Kuznetsov has cost the Caps a goal with a poor decision in his own end. Combine those turnovers with the fact that he’s got one point—a secondary assist—in the past five contests, and you’ve got an important piece of the Caps’ puzzle that is really scuffling right now.
Asked after the game if he had addressed the turnover with Kuznetsov, Trotz said he did not find it necessary to do so in the heat of battle.
“He knows,” Trotz said. “Everybody in the building knows. There’s nothing said. I just said, ‘Hey, you got to go get it back.’”
Kuznetsov had a chance for redemption in the shootout, but Devils backup goalie Keith Kinkaid turned him away with a blocker save, capping a frustrating night for a player the Caps desperately need to get going.
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