Kuznetsov skates at Kettler for the first times since signing with the Caps. (Photos by Chris Gordon)

After almost four years, Evgeny Kuznetsov took the ice for the first time in a Washington Capitals uniform on Sunday — albeit a practice jersey. Kuzya, the only player on the ice, did drills with head coach Adam Oates and strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish, while taking shots on equipment guy and Ovi’s buddy Alexander “Gus” Gusev.

After doing sprints and drills, Kuznetsov left the ice and signed autographs for the adoring public. He then jumped into the Caps conference room where he answered questions for twenty minutes and said at least 19 completely different words in English.

Yes, it’s finally Kuzya Time. I’ve got your photos.

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Photo: Chris Gordon

At Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Sunday morning, a dozen reporters and three photographers watched Evgeny Kuznetsov skate around for 45 minutes. It was eight in the morning and he was the only player on the ice. Fans held up signs welcoming him in Russian and wore his KHL jersey in the stands. The day before, Kuznetsov had signed a two-year entry-level contract with Washington, ending a four year battle to bring him over from the KHL after being drafted 26th overall by the Capitals in 2010.

“My contract is over,” Kuznetsov told reporters gathered in the Kettler conference room. “I’m excited. All is good.”

“Any hockey player wants to play in the NHL, wants to win the Cup,” he added. “It’s my dream to play in the NHL. I’m happy to see you. I’m ready 100 percent. I want to play.”

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Photo: Rob Carr

If the Caps squeak into the playoffs, you might have to thank Karl Alzner. Not for his defense — something a bit lacking on the Caps lately — but his offense. With 10:15 left in an important game against the Phoenix Coyotes, Karl unleashed a wrist shot from the near point, which went through traffic before beating Mike Smith over his right shoulder. Though Washington looked lifeless for the first 50 minutes, that goal ignited an incredible comeback, featuring two goals in 32 seconds and two points in the standings.

“I was excited,” Alzner told reporters after the game. “Everyone seemed really excited. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was me who scored it and not a guy who normally scores, but people seemed really up after that. It was the perfect momentum swing and the perfect line to come out right after that. It was the perfect storm for us.”

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Photo: Carolyn Kaster

Visual approximation

Visual approximation

On June 25 2010, the Washington Capitals selected Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall. They saw him as one of the top players in the draft. He had only fallen so low, the Capitals thought, because some teams were uncertain when or if he would come to North America. George McPhee thought he could bring the 18-year-old Russian over within a year. One thousand three hundred fifty-two days later, Kuznetsov signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Caps.

“We’ve been working on it for four years,” McPhee told reporters before Washington’s game against Phoenix on Saturday. “It’s kind of like seeing the Loch Ness Monster when he walked in. We’ve heard of you, but we haven’t seen you. There he was and I found it hard to believe he was standing there after all this. It’s a pretty neat feeling that this kid’s in the fold and he’s a pretty darn good player.”

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Almost four years after he was drafted by the team, Evgeny Kuznetsov has been signed by the Washington Capitals. Drafted 26th overall in 2010, Kuznetsov has stayed in Russia, playing for the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk. For the past year we’ve had indications Kuznetsov would finally be coming over. That came to a head a few days ago when he voided his expiring contract with Traktor after they failed to make the playoffs.

Just after 1 pm today, the Caps announced they had signed the 21-year-old to a two-year entry level contract. Caps GM George McPhee will talk about the signing tonight at Verizon Center. Tomorrow morning at 8, Kuznetsov will take the ice as a member of the Washington Capitals for the first time before addressing the media. He will be wearing his usual number 92.

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Photo: Mark Buckner

(Photo: Mark Buckner)

Coming into the 2014 NHL trade deadline, some fans feared Caps general manager George McPhee would make a drastic move in the hopes of securing a playoff spot. Instead, he made three reasonable ones. The Caps got better this year without harming themselves in the future.

The biggest deal was the final one, with the Caps sending Michal Neuvirth and the newly acquired Rostislav Klesla to the Buffalo Sabres for Caps killer Jaroslav Halak and a third-round pick.

“I think we start with Neuvirth, and he wasn’t happy being a number two,” McPhee told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “We tried to accommodate him. We brought in an experienced guy. I think it’s an upgrade on the tandem which is what we wanted to accomplish.”

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Photo: Jeff Gross

The Caps are buyers. Earlier today, Washington acquired Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a fourth round pick in the 2014 draft, which the Caps got from the Ducks in the Mathieu Perreault trade. Penner should slot in as the first or second-line left wing for the Caps, providing some net crashing for their skill lines. He filled that role admirably in Orange County, picking up 32 points so far this season playing on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

“Hopefully it’s similar to the way Getz and Perry were,” Penner said of the possibility of playing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. “We were able to generate offense.”

“I hope to be in the lineup tomorrow,” he added by phone from LAX. “If not then I rushed for nothing.”

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The Risk and Reward of Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green


Photo: Evan Vucci

Thursday night, defense partners Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov were on the ice for two goals against. On Florida’s first goal, Jesse Winchester torched Orlov, blowing past him on the far wall. For the Panthers second goal, the duo left men wide open in front of Braden Holtby before Brad Boyes flipped the puck in.

Sunday afternoon, however, the pair was brilliant — at least for the first 50 minutes. Orlov had the first multi-goal game of his career while Green racked up three assists. It’s usually a zero-sum game with Greenlov: they either win big or lose badly.

Today, though, it was both. With 10 minutes left in game, Orlov went after Brayden Schenn, who had just hit him behind the net. Dima unleashed a brutal board in the corner, receiving a well-deserved five minute major. The Flyers got scored on the ensuing power play. They added two more to stun the Caps in their first game back at home since the Olympic break. Orlov and Green, naturally, were on the ice for the game-tying goal.

“He didn’t change,” head coach Adam Oates said of Orlov’s hit. “He was on the same shift and he went right back after him.”

“You’ve got to suck it up when it’s your turn,” the coach continued. “They hit hard too. They’re big boys too. They’ve got to push, they’re losing. They’ve got to push. We’ve got to be able to handle that.”

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Ovi celebrates his 800th career point. (Photo: Alex Trautwig)

Alex Ovechkin is hitting a lot of milestones lately. So far this season he’s tallied his 1000th professional points, become the franchise leader in power play goals, and scored his 400th career goal. With two goals against the Bruins on Saturday, Ovi hit 800 points. He should hit 50 goals by the end of year too.

“It’s history,” Ovi told reporters after the game. “You always wants to be in the history. You always want to be on top of everybody. I try to do my best, but without my linemates and teammates I didn’t get those kind of points.”

Once again, this underscores the remarkable year Ovi has had. Ovechkin has a stunning 73 regular season goals since February of 2013. Under Adam Oates, Ovi has gone from an oft-criticized washed up star to the best sniper in the game — though, of course, he’s still criticized.

“I feel good about myself,” Ovi said. “I have a good feeling about my shot. Every time when I have opportunity to shoot the puck I’m going shoot.”

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After a Rough Year, Troy Brouwer is Coming Alive


Photo: J. Pat Carter

For most of this season, Troy Brouwer’s lack of production has been one of the biggest holes in the Capitals offense. He didn’t reach double-digit goals until the end of January. Coming into Thursday’s game, Brouwer had scored 14 goals, just eight of which at even strength. Last season, he scored 19 in a mere 47 games.

Brouwer, however, might be coming alive as the Caps make their push for the playoffs. He has six goals in his last five games. In the first game back from the Olympic break, he beat Tim Thomas twice as the Caps edged out the Panthers. And he got it done with some Knublian grease.

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