On Saturday, Evgeny Kuznetsov visited his local fire station, Fire Station 4 in Clarendon, bearing gifts. The newly minted 23-year-old was also in need of some help. I’ll let Nate Hiner, a firefighter there, explain.
Unlike fellow Russian teammate Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov has remained in DC since the season ended. On Tuesday, Kuznetsov celebrated his 23rd birthday with friends at Mari Vanna, a Russian restaurant on Connecticut Avenue. As per Russian tradition (I guess), there were terrifyingly large sparklers (how the building didn’t burn down, I don’t know) and a birthday cake. Also clapping. Lots of clapping.
Photo credit: Susan Walsh
Evgeny Kuznetsov was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2010. It took him four years to come over to North America. He could have left in 2012, but he signed a contract extension to stay with hometown team, Traktor Chelyabinsk. With that decision, it became easy to stereotype him as another Russian who chose the motherland and lots of tax-free money over playing in the best league in the world. But last year, Kuznetsov finally signed with the Capitals. With that contract now up, Kuznetsov, as he has before, tacitly admitted it was a mistake to stay in Russia when he spoke to reporters on breakdown day.
“When I came last year, I don’t understand yet what is this NHL,” Kuznetsov said. “Right now I know what is this.”
The Caps have lost in seven games after leading the series 3-1. Some players found this frustrating. One of those players was Jason Chimera.
As he walked to the locker room, the Ice Cheetah slammed his stick against the wall. Evgeny Kuznetsov was nearly hit in the head.
Photo credit: Nick Wass
Braden Holtby is that good. He has been the best goalie of the playoffs, posting a .951 save percentage through 11 games. But on Sunday night, the New York Rangers offense finally broke through. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead before the Capitals almost pulled off an unbelievable comeback. For the first time this postseason, we saw Holtby crack. Washington’s faith in him, however, is unshaken. They were not interested in talking about Henrik Lundqvist, who turned aside 42 shots in Washington’s one-goal defeat.
“Our goalie’s better,” Evgeny Kuznetsov, defiant in his postgame media scrum, said. “I don’t know what you want to listen from my mouth, but our goalie’s better.”
The Caps at one point during the third period were down 4-1. Then Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward scored and made it a game! First, the 22-year-old rookie scored his fifth goal of the playoffs off a broken play in front of the net. He now leads the Caps in goals.
Photo: Rob Carr
One year ago, Evgeny Kuznetsov came to North America. On a spring morning, he took the ice for the first time in a Washington uniform after signing a two-year entry level contract. Save for Capitals coaches, Kuznetsov was alone. Still, cameras followed him incessantly down the ice.
Soon after, RMNB spoke to Kuznetsov for the first time. Last Sunday, we did it again. There was a fair bit to discuss. For Kuznetsov, it’s hard to imagine a more dramatic shift in just one season. So far, he’s been a fourth liner, a second-line second, a healthy scratch, and finally, a playoff hero. Off the ice, Kuznetsov endeared himself to his teammates and became a media darling.
Naturally, we had both asinine and serious questions for Kuzy. He happily obliged.
Photo: Ian Oland
When it comes to handing out cool nicknames to their teammates, we think hockey players are second to none. The current crop of Capitals are certainly doing their fair share of creative nicknaming. When the NHL mic’d up Tom Wilson for a first round game against the Islanders, we learned that Alex Ovechkin’s moniker is Destroyer – or at least that’s what Willy Baby calls him. And who can forget the “Big Cheese” Joel Ward; I mean, how can it possibly get any cooler than Big Cheese!?
In my opinion, it just did, courtesy of the two Caps players, who, as The Washington Post recently discovered, developed a strong and somewhat surprising friendship during the course of this season: Russian rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov and grizzled American veteran Brooks Orpik.
Photo credit: Frank Franklin II
At 12:40 p.m. on Saturday, Jay Beagle won the opening faceoff of game two of Metropolitan Division Final against the New York Rangers. Instead of controlling the puck, however, the Capitals allowed the Rangers to set up for a rush out their defensive zone. As the Rangers took the puck up the ice, Washington’s top forward and defensive lines jumped on the ice. Brooks Orpik didn’t do so fast enough. Jesper Fast fed the puck to Chris Kreider in front. Thirty-eight seconds into the game, Washington was down one-nil. By the end of the first period, New York had a two-goal lead. The Caps had been outshot 15-4, completely outmatched for the first 20 minutes of play.
“I think we had a great start,” defenseman Marc Staal told reporters at the team hotel on Sunday.
But instead of sitting on their lead as they did in game two, the Rangers only plan to press more on Monday.
“It’s one thing to stay patient,” Staal said. “I think it’s another thing to stay aggressive.”