By Igor Kleyner
Photo: Chris Gordon
What could be a bigger downer than giving an interview right after missing playoffs by by just four points? How about giving an interview after missing two playoffs by four points in two months! Because’s that’s what happened to Evgeny Kuznetsov: first in the KHL, when last year’s Gagarin Cup finalist Traktor came up short, then again when the Caps missed their chance by the same margin.
That was on Kuznetsov ‘s mind when we chatted on breakdown day.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It’s the second time this year, same thing [missing playoffs]. It’s very disappointing we didn’t make the playoffs. I think we had a chance. We played well. Maybe were unlucky somewhere.
You joined the team toward the end of the season. Did you notice any obvious shortcomings on the team?
EK: Even if I did, that is something that has to stay internal to the team. I still think sometimes we played well even when we did not get the result– like those two games against Pittsburgh. We lost both of them, but I don’t think we played that badly. But those four points– that’s exactly what we were short of at the end. It’s upsetting for me personally; I really wanted to make it to the playoffs. I did not expect to be going back [to Russia] so soon.
In the short five weeks you have been here, you got to play on just about every line: 4th, 2nd, even a bit of 1st. You got to play both center and wing, with just about every teammate on your line at one time or another.
EK: It really doesn’t matter who you play with or which position. You just want to play all the time. It’s understandable; the coach tries different line combinations, searches for what works better. It’s better that way, than the opposite – if a coach is not involved. It’s a bit different here from how it is [back in Russia] – [the coaches] always are very engaged, try to explain and show everything. I think it’s a sign of professionalism of very high level. I think it is very helpful to the players.
Sounds like you like to be coached!
EK: Any player wants that kind of attention. The coaches can see better what needs to be adjusted.
So what are the areas where according to the coaching staff you need to improve?
EK: Well, I don’t want to give away what my weaknesses are!
What are your plans for the off season? Anything special in your preseason routine for this year?
EK: No, it should be a regular summer. Of course, I would love to make it to the World Championship. Then, get some rest, and go back to training. I think I will come back here a bit earlier to get a good headstart on preparations for the next season. I am going to concentrate on getting bigger.
So that’s the main goal? To improve physically?
EK: Yes, it’s necessary here, after all, the season is very long, 82 games. I need to become stronger. I can’t say that I have felt a lack of physical strength here, but I only got to play in a few games; if I had to play the whole season, all 82 games, I am not sure how I would feel.
Do you think you need to be heavier?
EK: No, not necessarily the weight, but I need to be stronger. I want to get here and start my training with strength coach [Mark Nemish].
Last summer Dima went to Powertrain Sports for his conditioning, along with Stan Galiev and Varly…
EK: No, that type of training is not for me – everybody has their own preferred way to prepare for the season. For me personally, I need to enjoy training. Maybe sometimes it’s good to go through some very intense strenuous workout, but I think it’s too much to do it the whole summer. Of course, I am not saying you don’t need to train hard, but I prefer to start the most intense workouts maybe 3-4 weeks before the camp, and before that – just keep myself reasonably toned.
Is that how you used to spend your summers while playing in Chelyabinsk?
EK: Actually, in Chelyabinsk, I think I wasn’t getting enough rest in summer. We always play soccer there in summertime.
You know, the Russian contingent of the Capitals organization has a soccer thing going here in the summer as well.
EK: Yes, of course I am going to participate as well. Soccer is my favorite sport [outside of hockey]. In Chelyabinsk I was always on a soccer team. You get the benefit of training, but it’s also something I enjoy doing. And even in summer, rest is important, but you can’t just sit at home and do nothing, you want some kind of activity. Seven, ten days of resting and then I feel like I need to get something going.
Your wife is here now. How are you guys settling in? She seems to hit it off right away with Ovi and Orly’s significant others.
EK: It is easy to settle in here, there is plenty of help available if we need it. Yeah, the girls get along very well. I guess we Russians tend to hang together and help each other when we are in a difficult situation. I wouldn’t even say anything is difficult, but it really is nice that the girls helped Nastya out with whatever was needed. We both were taken care of. We have a tight and friendly group here.
Last question: name one thing that surprised you here in America.
EK: When you sneeze, here they don’t say “Будь здоров!” [traditional Russian equivalent of “Bless you!”, literally means “Be healthy!”]
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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