The Washington Capitals needed Evgeny Kuznetsov to get back to form. The center has been struggling the past two seasons, partially due to self-inflicted issues. With center depth a concern to start 2021-22, Kuznetsov has quickly relieved any anxiety from the team and fan base with his production thus far. If he maintains this level of play, the Capitals are once again a dangerous squad.
The Capitals are Getting What They Need Out of Evgeny Kuznetsov
On Oct. 20, the Capitals defeated the Colorado Avalanche 6-3. During the first period, Kuznetsov skated up the ice to set up the power play and tried to shuffle the puck to T.J. Oshie sprinting near the boards. J.T. Compher anticipated and intercepted the pass and held off Kuznetsov as he maneuvered in front of the net to lift a shorthanded goal past Ilya Samsonov. That’s not what this article is about, but we had to get it out of the way.
Kuznetsov was declining over the past two years. His off-ice issues haunted him since propelling Washington to the 2018 Stanley Cup title. It was vital for both him and the franchise to rejuvenate his play and get back to the dominant player he is capable of being. He’s off to a great start to the season.
Evgeny Kuzentsov the Playmaker
The Russian is one of the better centers in the league when he wants to be. He should want to be all the time because he makes top center money, the 17th most in the league among the position at $7.8 million per year. His performance in the last two seasons didn’t equal that value. In fact, it didn’t come close. He ranked 32nd and 62nd among centers in points, respectively. That has already drastically changed.
Kuznetsov currently is tied for the second-most points in the NHL (8) through four games, most coming via the assist (5). He opened the 2021-22 campaign with three points against the New York Rangers and followed that up a week later with another three-point performance versus the Avalanche. During Thursday’s matchup with the New Jersey Devils, the center earned another two points.
Evgeny Kuznetsov the Goal Scorer
Let’s not get too excited about Kuznetsov’s ability to score goals. It’s not his primary role, but he can do so when given the opportunity—and with ease. Over the course of his career, he has recorded more than twice as many helpers as goals per season. During his NHL tenure, assists account for 69% of his points.
Yet, if he’s able to increase production in this aspect of his game, the Capitals will immediately become a viable contender once again. The key element of his goal-scoring that will vastly help Washington’s plight to earn another championship is that his tallies are coming at even strength. This was a concern during the first two games before the team broke out versus the Avalanche and continued to produce five-on-five scores against New Jersey. This is in comparison to his assists, which are padded on the power play. Four of his five assists have come with a man-advantage, short-handed, or when the opponent’s net is empty.
Lastly, Kuznetsov being a goal-scoring threat opens up more opportunities for Alex Ovechkin and others to put pucks in the net. The Capitals currently have scored the fifth-most goals (16) and are tied for fifth in goals per game (4.00) in the NHL.
Capitals in a Good Spot
Easy math will show that Kuznetsov has been involved in half of the team’s total goals so far. It is not a coincidence that their offensive success parallels his motivated play. Perhaps Kuznetsov’s fast start to the season is due to Nicklas Backstrom being out. That contributes to his stat sheet some, but he looks refreshed on the ice. He’s gliding past defenders once again, his passes are crisper, and he appears to be more physically stable. With the emergence of Hendrix Lapierre and with Backstrom set to return eventually, the Capitals have answers to their preseason concern of center depth—and it happened much quicker than initially thought. But, at the same time, was expected.
The two uncertainties are consistency and availability, and that’s something too hard to predict, especially with his past. There is something different about this version of Kuznetsov; there’s still familiarity, but with rediscovered and increased gusto. If he can maintain this level of play, and stay in the lineup, the Capitals become a very dangerous contender once again.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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