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Details: Capitals sign Evgeny Kuznetsov to new deal

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Details: Capitals sign Evgeny Kuznetsov to new deal

The Capitals have re-signed restricted free agent center Evgeny Kuznetsov to a two-year, $6 million contract.

The deal seems to be a perfect compromise between the two sides. Kuznetsov, 23, carried a $900,000 base salary last season but averaged $2.825 million because of bonuses. By signing a two-year deal, Kuznetsov will have a chance to prove he can be a regular producer at the NHL level before cashing in on a deal that rivals the one he left in the KHL, where he earned $3.8 million in his final season in Russia.

The deal is also a good one for the Capitals because it keeps Kuznetsov a restricted free agent. He will be two years away from unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of his contract.

With Kuznetsov under contract the Caps now have about $10.9 million in salary cap space while still needing to sign goaltender Braden Holtby and forward Marcus Johansson, each of whom filed for arbitration on Sunday. Holtby’s cap hit is expected to fall somewhere between $5 million and $6 million, while Johansson figures to come it at between $3.5 million and $4 million. Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said he would like to enter the 2015-16 season with a salary cushion of at least $1 million.

Taken by the Caps with the 26th overall selection of the 2010 NHL draft, Kuznetsov earned 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 80 games with the Caps last season, marking the most points a Capitals rookie has registered in a season since John Carlson (37) in 2010-11. 

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The 6-foot-2, 204-pound center also became the 13th rookie in franchise history to earn 25 assists in a season. Kuznetsov registered five multi-point games last season and scored on four consecutive shootout attempts, matching the longest streak in the NHL. He led all Capitals rookies in goals (11), assists (26), points (37) and games played (80) and ranked eighth among NHL rookies in assists (26) and ninth in points (37). 

Kuznetsov recorded seven points (five goals, two assists) in 14 games with the Capitals during the 2015 playoffs. He scored two goals and added an assist in Game 5 against the Islanders in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, marking his first three career playoff points. Kuznetsov became the second player in franchise history to record his first three playoff points in the same game, joining Sergei Gonchar (5/6/95 at PIT: 2g, 1a). He is one of five rookies in franchise history to score two goals in a playoff game, joining Marcus Johansson (4/20/11 at NYR: 2g), Richard Zednik (5/28/98 at BUF: 2g, 1a), Sergei Gonchar (5/6/95 at PIT: 2g, 1a) and Andre Burakovsky (5/6/15 vs. NYR: 2g). In addition, Kuznetsov became the third rookie in Capitals playoff history to record three points in a game, joining Zednik and Gonchar.

In Game 7 against the Islanders, Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal with 7:18 remaining in the third period in the Capitals 2-1 victory. Kuznetsov is the first rookie in Capitals playoff history to score a series-clinching goal in a Game 7 and is one of six rookies in NHL history to score the game-winning goal in a Game 7 decided by a one-goal margin. The others are Toronto's Gerry Ehman in 1953 (at Boston), Montreal's Claude Lemieux in 1986 (vs. Hartford in OT), Calgary's Perry Berezan in 1986 (at Edmonton), Dallas' Roman Lyashenko in 2000 (vs. Colorado) and New Jersey’s Adam Henrique in 2012 (vs. Florida in 2OT). Kuznetsov finished the postseason ranked tied for first among Capitals skaters in goals and tied for fourth on the team in points.

Kuznetsov has represented Russia at three World Championships (2012, 2013, 2014), two World Junior Championships (2011, 2012) and two World U18 Championships (2009, 2010). The Chelyabinsk, Russia, native won a gold medal with Russia at the 2012 and 2014 World Championship and at the 2011 World Junior Championship. In 2012, Kuznetsov captained Russia to a silver medal at the World Junior Championship and was named to the tournament all-star team, the tournament’s best forward, one of the top-3 best players on his team and won the tournament MVP.

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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