Photo: Amanda Bowen
During Thursday morning’s practice, Barry Trotz debuted new lines (again). According to The Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt, these are the new combos.
Ovechkin – Backstrom – Wilson
Johansson – Burakovsky – Brouwer
Chimera – Laich – Ward
O’Brien – Latta – Beagle
And the extra forwards:
Kuznetsov – Fehr – Volpatti (IR)
With Brooks Laich’s shoulder finally healed, the lines had to be juggled. It appears Caps rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov will be scratched for the first time in his career against Chicago on Friday. Eric Fehr will join him in the press box, scratched for the second straight game.
The talented Kuznetsov, who played on the wing for his entire career in the KHL, has struggled to find consistency centering the team’s bottom lines. On the team’s second power-play unit, Kuznetsov has been one of the team’s most productive players, tied for second with four PP points, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
The skill is obviously there; it’s Kuznetsov’s system play at even strength where he’s struggled. Let’s take a look at his possession stats.
|Forward||Rel. Possession||Rel. Zone Starts||TOI/Game|
These numbers from War On Ice are relative. That is– comparing how the team does when the player is on the ice versus when he’s on the bench at even strength (5v5). So Backstrom’s 10.78 percent relative possession means the Caps get 10.78 percent more unblocked shot attempts when he’s playing versus when he’s not, and Fehr’s -16.19 percent relative zone starts means the Caps take faceoffs in the offensive zone 16.19 percent less when he’s playing compared to when he’s not.
Here’s a Vollman player usage chart, again generated by War On Ice. Bottom right means favorable playing conditions, top left means tough playing conditions. Color means shot-attempt percentage (blue good, red bad). Size of the bubble represents time on ice per game.
It’s abundantly clear that Eric Fehr is significantly helping his team when he’s playing. Kuznetsov on the other hand appears to be one of the team’s weakest 5v5 players despite the team’s most cozy deployment.
Last week, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen spoke to Trotz about his prized prospect and spoke about his struggles. He did not seem too concerned about Kuznetsov long-term.
“He’s going to be fine,” Trotz said. “He’s just adjusting to the North American game, playing a new position as well. He’s been really good on the power play. He’s had moments 5-on-5 where he’s been very, very dominant. And there are times where the North American game sort of eats him up a little bit. A lot of that is the back pressure. In the KHL there’s not as much back pressure so he can move laterally more. He’s got tremendous hands and vision, but in the KHL he can go lateral and here he doesn’t have the space but he still tries to go lateral, it’s not there, and he’s surrounded. It’s trying to get him to play more north-south, but with his skillset he’ll be fine.
Earlier this season Trotz also spoke to Alex Prewitt and reiterated that the team is more focused on teaching the player the right way to play and developing him as a center.
“I’m looking for a guy like Kuzy to have a real strong career for the next 15 years or so,” Trotz said. ‘What happens here in the next two weeks, or a month from now, will have what I think very little bearing on his long-term success here.”
With the team’s glut of forwards and in the midst of a five-game losing streak, it’s hard to keep a kid in the lineup who’s been struggling so much. But without more experience and games, Kuzya is not going to improve.
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