Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov all made their 2016 World Championship debuts for Team Russia, Saturday. Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal scorer didn’t dent the twine, but his Caps teammates sure were busy. Orlov delivered one of the biggest hits of his career while Kuznetsov, the Caps regular season leading point scorer, tallied on a brilliant mid-air deflection.
Photo: Russian Hockey Federation
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.”
Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
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.
Photo: Drew Hallowell
Ahead of Game Six in Pittsburgh, Evgeny Kuznetsov had something profound to say, which I’m now going to share with you.
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.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
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.
Photo: Patrick Smith
Humble af Evgeny Kuznetsov spoke 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.
Igor Kleyner has your translation.
Flyers forward Brayden Schenn had already delivered a series full of questionable hits. During Game Four, Schenn stepped his troll game up another notch, using his stick as a weapon.
The hubbub occurred late in the second period. Second line forward Justin Williams centered a pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov in front of the net. Kuznetsov took a few whacks at the puck in the crease before Michal Neuvirth froze the puck. That’s when Schenn arrived on the scene to deliver a cross-check after the whistle.
It was a dangerous play.
Monday night at Wells Fargo Center, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his first goal in 22 games. It was a gift from the Hockey Gods. Kuznetsov scored after a Justin Williams dump-in took a strange bounce off the boards. The puck ricocheted to Kuznetsov, who was skating alone towards the front of the net. Using sublime patience, Kuznetsov tucked the puck past Steve Mason’s outstretched pad, giving the Caps a back-breaking 3-1 third period lead.
Several minutes later, Kuznetsov was on the ice when he saw his friend, Dmitry Orlov, get shoved headfirst into the boards by Pierre-Édouard Bellemare. As Orlov received medical attention on the bench, a Flyers fan threw a bracelet from the stands, striking Orly in the left cheek.
In the locker room, Kuznetsov conducted a Russian-language interview with SovSport’s Natalia Bragilevskaya and spoke about how the game turned into a sideshow in the third period.
“No fan would be happy when his team is losing,” Kuznetsov said. “That’s how it happened, but it is on their conscience. Our fans have more class.”
Kuznetsov also seemed to be genuinely touched and heart-broken by the pre-game ceremony honoring Flyers owner Ed Snider.
Photo: Patrick Smith
This season, the Washington Capitals blocked just under 1,000 shots in 82 regular-season games. That averages out to about a dozen a game. In Game One of the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, the Caps got in the way of 23 shots. The usual suspects of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner did much of the work. But so did skill players like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“Not even pain,” Kuznetsov said when a reporter asked him about a key shot he absorbed. ”I fake it.”