One of Caps fans’ biggest fears when players head overseas for international competition after the NHL season is the very real threat of injury. We got a taste of that threat today when Evgeny Kuznetsov had to be helped off the ice during Russia’s match against Sweden in the IIHF World Championships underway in Moscow.
Kuzy went down after taking a shoulder to the head from Mikael Backlund, a Swedish center who plays for the Calgary Flames. Kuznetsov did not have the puck.
The Caps trioka is now 2-0 in two World Championship play.
Monday at Moscow’s Ice Palace, the Russian National Team defeated Norway 3-0. Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov had two assists. Dima received the primary assist on Ivan Telegin’s second period goal and tallied a secondary on Roman Lyubimov’s third period goal.
If you count the Capitals’ regular season and playoff games, Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s World Championships goal Saturday was his second tally in 32 games. And it was another jaw-dropping example of Kuznetsov’s magical hand-eye coordination. As Kuznetsov flew by a Swiss defenseman, he put a shot on goal before whacking the rebound into the net out of mid air.
The Russian Hockey Federation managed to snap the brilliant above photo, which shows Kuznetsov getting the blade of his stick on the puck from behind the net.
Friday afternoon, Washington Capitals Russians Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov arrived safely in Moscow, home of the 2016 World Championship. Dressed from head to toe in nationalistic Team Russia gear, each Capital met with the media and talked about their disappointing finish to their NHL season.
“We are going to try to make up for the unfortunate showing in the NHL by winning the tournament and showing good hockey,” Alex Ovechkin said as translated by Igor Kleyner. “Of course it’s disappointing. But we’ll think about it later. Right now al the thoughts are about the Worlds. We will do everything to win.”
There’s still more hockey to be played for Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov. This morning, less than 12 hours after the Capitals’ season-ending loss to the Penguins, Russia announced that they were calling up the three Caps to their World Championship team.
The 2016 World Championship is being held in Saint Petersburg and Ovechkin’s hometown of Moscow.
The Washington Capitals must win their next two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive. Yet, if you think the players are figuratively drowning in a sea of anxiety, you’d be wrong. So. Very. Wrong.
For example, let’s take a closer look at this post-practice interview with Jason Chimera.
Evgeny Kuznetsov put himself on the map as a star in the NHL during the regular season. Building off of a solid playoff performance in the spring of 2015, the Caps’ Russian center led the Caps with 77 points, posting 20 goals and 57 assists in 82 games. Entering the playoffs, Kuznetsov was expected to lead a second line that would give the Caps a top-six as feared and productive as they’ve had in the playoffs during the Alex Ovechkin era.
Through 11 games, that hasn’t happened. Kuznetsov has posted just one goal and one assist. I’m not going to make a definitive narrative about Kuznetsov as a player based off of these 11 playoff games. To do so would be both shortsighted and disingenuous. After all, Kuznetsov was great in the playoffs last year. Further, the sample of games in the playoffs is generally so small that it’s dangerous to build a narrative off of, as a few good games can result in a total reversal of any playoff-based narrative.
While keeping in mind that an 11-game sample isn’t enough for any grand takeaways on Kuznetsov as a player, the fact remains that his production (goals, points) has fallen off a cliff at the time when the Caps need him the most.
But here’s the thing: Kuznetsov has actually been a more dangerous player during the playoffs than he was during the regular season. The only thing keeping this from showing up on the score sheet is that he and his linemates haven’t been able to bury their chances. Call it bad puck luck, a cold streak, or whatever you want, but the bottom line is Kuznetsov has been doing everything right in the playoffs but the often-fickle results haven’t yet fallen in line with the rock-solid process.
Comparing regular season numbers to the playoffs, let’s take a look at the numbers to support this.
Humble af Evgeny Kuznetsovspoke with SovSport’s Natalia Bragilevskaya after the Capitals closed out their first-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday. He addressed a topic likely to dominate media conversations over the next week: the Caps’ past playoff failures. Many of those disappointments have come against the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom the Caps will face in the second round.
Kuznetsov wanted to get ahead of that talk now.
“You mention the previous century – but of those people, who is still playing?” Kuznetsov asks. “That’s history, nobody cares about it.”
“The guys in Pittsburgh are the same people – two legs, two arms, one head,” Kuznetsov added.