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Caps' Kuznetsov acknowledges miscue but makes no apologies for attempting a high-risk play

Caps' Kuznetsov acknowledges miscue but makes no apologies for attempting a high-risk play

A day after committing a costly turnover, Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov expressed contrition about the result but offered no apologies for attempting a risky play.

Kuznetsov saw an opportunity for a quick exit, he explained after practice on Friday, and so he tried a behind-the-back pass in the defensive zone. Unfortunately for the Caps, the turnover resulted in the Devils’ only goal in a 2-1 shootout victory.  

“I did mistake and I have to pay for that,” he said. “Sometimes you can do 10 mistakes, but then you do one mistake and [it’s in] the back of your net. What you have to do is just focus on next game. I already forget that.”

The 24-year-old Russian added: “Everyone make mistakes, right? The game [is] like that right now. You have to do right things and maybe never do same thing. But that’s not me, I’m always going to play like that. If I was make that play, [we] go on 3-on-2. …If you try to make the play, you have to. I didn’t.”

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After winning a draw early in the second period, Kuznetsov secured the puck and looked to move it up quickly. But instead of making the safe play, he attempted a blind pass that ended up going between defensemen Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and right to Devils winger PA Parenteau.  

Asked if he should have made a simpler play give the situation, Kuznetsov cracked, “That’s not me,” before adding, “I know that’s my mistake. I saw the kind of guys that pressure us and if I make that play, [we] will go 3-on-2, but like I said I didn’t and I pay for that.”

Coach Barry Trotz said he did not speak to Kuznetsov about the turnover other than a few words on the bench.

“He knows; there’s nothing to be said,” Trotz said Friday. “He’s watched it. He knows. Just make the right play. We have the puck, don’t give them free offense. This game is all about mistakes. If there’s no mistakes there’s no goals. But we just want to make sure that, let’s not do anything blind. Let’s make sure we’re trying to execute the proper ways, and he knows. There’s nothing to be said, just move on.”

Although Trotz did not discuss the turnover with Kuznetsov, the coach did not agree with Kuzy’s rationale for attempting the pass.

“There was no one to connect to,” Trotz said. “That would be my response. At that point, there was no one to connect but [Parenteau].”

Asked why he did not bench or reduce Kuznetsov’s ice time, Trotz said he does not believe it’s a recurring problem for his team's second line pivot, an explanation that underscores his belief that the turnover last week in Philly was an unfortunate bounce off a seam in the boards.

“He’s an important player for us,” Trotz said. “If I sat out everybody who turns the puck over and has a bad shift, I would run out of players. …Sometimes if a player makes continual mistakes, you have a little sit down. But that was a one-time thing. So you just say, ‘Hey, let’s clean that up and go get it back.’ That’s all I said to him.”

Trotz also acknowledged that there’s a fine line coaches must walk with highly-skilled players because they sometimes attempt difficult plays that others would not.

“That does happen,” he said. “With everything we do, we don’t want to limit creativity. But we want to manage and control that creativity to the point where everybody is on the same page. Because if one guy’s got this creative idea of how he’s going to do things and everybody else doesn’t know about this creative idea, a lot of times it doesn’t work. I love the creativity, the stuff the high-skill guys can do. There’s no question that they’re the guys that can really make it happen. But just make the right plays at the right time.”

A blind pass in the D-zone—of a scoreless game, no less—does not qualify as the right play at the right time. The thing to watch will be whether such things continue to happen.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps struggle to solve Kinkaid

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At Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament, T.J. Oshie continues to chug beer

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USA Today Sports Images

At Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament, T.J. Oshie continues to chug beer

If you know anything about Stanley Cup champion T.J. Oshie, it's probably that he has a thing for chugging beer.

At his second American Century Champions celebrity golf tournament out on Lake Tahoe, Oshie kept his reputation alive and well by funnelling a beer from a fan in between holes.

The Caps winger signed a jacket amidst a crowd of fans cheering "C-A-P-S, Caps, Caps Caps" before being accepting a beer.

At last year's tournament, the freshly-minted NHL champ stuck with his signature celebration and chugged beer through his golf polo before sinking a put with a beer helmet on.

Oshie finished 51st this year, while Tony Romo took back-to-back first place titles.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Alex Ovechkin hit 50 goals again?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Alex Ovechkin hit 50 goals again?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. We begin with Alex Ovechkin, for whom 50 goals is always the expectation. But how much longer can the captain keep this up?  

Alex Ovechkin is already back running up mountains and pushing giant tires down tracks. 

It’s become a summer training ritual documented on social media for Ovechkin, who has had more downtime than he would have liked in 2019. Instead of partying with the Stanley Cup well into July, he has already had plenty of vacation time with wife, Nastya, and son, Sergei, and his family all while plotting how to get the Stanley Cup back to Washington.   

That extra time for rest and training is necessary with Ovechkin’s age-34 season approaching. His birthday is Sept. 17. It is his 15thNHL season. The question: Can Ovechkin defy the odds and make a run at yet another 50-goal season?

We’re getting close to the historical limit. Johnny Bucyk scored 50 goals at age 35 for the Boston Bruins in 1970-71. Jaromir Jagr turned 34 toward the back end (Feb. 15) of a 2005-06 season when he scored 54 goals for the New York Rangers. 

But that’s the list Ovechkin is working with. Otherwise, we are in uncharted territory. He could pass Jagr by hitting 50 again during a season he will actually begin at age 34. He can’t yet catch Bucyk, who was 35 for the entirety of that 1970-71 season, to become the oldest 50-goal scorer in NHL history. 

That honor – if it happens - would actually have to wait until 2021-22, which is a year Ovechkin is not even under contract. He has two years remaining on the 13-year deal he signed with the Capitals way back in 2008. We were all so much younger then. 

But looking ahead, a 50-goal season at age 35 for Ovechkin would still fall short of Bucyk, who had a May birthday and was just a few weeks shy of his 36thbirthday when he scored 51 for Boston in 1971. Neither Bucyk nor Jagr even led the league in goals those years – something Ovechkin has done a record eight times. 

Jagr’s 54 goals came in an offense-happy year after a lockout canceled the 2004-05 season. There were five 50-goal scorers that year alone. This entire decade since 2010 there have been five players total who have scored 50 goals, including Ovechkin. And he’s the only one to hit 50 more than once. He’s done it four times this decade and just missed a fifth when he hit 49 in 2017-18. So close.  

"I’m sure he had some doubters out there that think it’s going to stop," Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamos said in March. "But [Ovechkin] just finds a way. He’s motivated. He loves to score goals."

Becoming the league’s oldest 50-goal scorer can wait a while. There’s a big contract negotiation that must take place before then. For now, there’s the small matter of catching Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for most 50-goal seasons all time. They both have nine. Ovechkin has eight. 

It wouldn’t shock anyone to see Ovechkin put together a few more 50-goal campaigns well into his 30s. Who would doubt him at this point? But expecting him to do it is another thing. Bodies age, injuries accrue, skills erode, speed diminishes.

Washington scored 274 goals last season. That was fifth in the NHL. It could probably withstand some erosion from Ovechkin, especially if its defensive play is better. The Capitals gave up 238 goals last season, which ranked 16th. The team made moves to improve its penalty kill and did its best to keep its scoring depth – though it remains to be seen if keeping Carl Hagelin and signing free agent Richard Panik was the right move while letting Brett Connolly walk and trading Andre Burakovsky. 

But this team has for several years now relied on its offensive stars to help carry the freight. That quality up and down the lineup begins with Ovechkin and it’s why the Capitals always seem to out-produce the advanced metrics that peg them as a very good team, but not an elite one. 

There is a Stanley Cup banner hanging at Capital One Arena that proves some teams just have a knack for playing better than the underlying numbers say that they should. History says Ovechkin should be done with 50 goals by now. Do you want to bet against him even at age 34? 

There are other milestones ahead for Ovechkin even if he falls short of 50 this season. A 42-goal season would get him to the magical 700 mark. Only seven players have ever done that. On the way, he’d pass legends like Mario Lemieux (690), Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694). A 50-goal season on the nose would tie Ovechkin with Hall-of-Famer Mike Gartner, who scored 397 of his 708 career goals with the Capitals. 

If that happens then the Gretzky watch will begin in earnest. Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals still seems impossible to reach. But one more 50-goal season would pull Ovechkin to within 186 goals before age 35. Suddenly the implausible seems possible then. 

“I don’t think it’s crazy. It’s going to be tough," said Stamkos who scored 60 goals in 2011-12 and is one of those five players with Ovechkin to top 50 this decade. "But the longevity he’s had in his career is pointing in his favor going forward. He’s always going to have that shot. I think there’s a chance. It’s going to be tough, but I do think there’s a chance for him to break it.”        

The greatest goal scorer of his generation then could make a final assault on history. But it all starts with one more big year before the aging curve really kicks in. Does Ovechkin have another 50 in him?  

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