Photo: Rob Carr
Washington Capitals rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov has struggled in both adjusting to the North American game and learning the center position. To hide his deficiencies, head coach Barry Trotz has limited Kuznetsov’s ice time, banishing him to the fourth line, and even scratching him for one game (which, let’s be honest, was painful to watch).
However, with Andre Burakovsky becoming strangely mortal lately, Trotz gave Kuznetsov a promotion to the second line against the Islanders.
Kuzya delivered in a big way.
Kuznetsov’s second line tilted the ice, outshooting the Islanders 19 to 14. Kuznetsov was on the ice for three of the Capitals’ five goals.
With 16:14 of ice time (his second highest total of the season), Kuznetsov scored a critical goal himself — which put the game out of reach for the Islanders — as well as a nifty assist on a first period power play tally from Andre Burakovksy. It’s Kuzya’s second career multi-point game (3/14/14 – 3 assists).
Let’s take a closer look.
Kuznetsov has been money on the Caps’ second unit power play all year long. In the first period, Kuznetsov, cradling the puck near the side boards, backhanded a perfect pass right into Matt Niskanen’s wheelhouse. Niskanen one-timed the puck from the point and as the puck made its way to Chad Johnson, Andre Burakovsky tipped the puck home. It would end up being Kuzya’s fifth power-play point of the season, which puts him in a two-way tie for third most PP points on the team. The only two guys ahead of him is Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, which is good company if you ask me.
On the goal, Kuznetsov just let his skill take over. After making a sick pass to Troy Brouwer earlier in the shift, he took the puck out of the corner and wristed the puck past Chad Johnson. Craig Laughlin, who earlier said this was Kuznetsov’s “best game as a Capital,” referred to the tally as a “goal scorer’s goal.” It would be Kuznetsov’s first even strength goal of the season. After the game, Kuznetsov said it was a “lucky shot.” Hm. It hit the crossbar twice, so maybe he has a point.
GIF by @myregularface
With Kuznetsov and Burakovsky flipping lines, you saw two things happen. Kuznetsov played with much more confidence while skating with skill players and admitted after the game he felt more “comfortable with more ice time.” Meanwhile, Burakovsky, who spent last season in North America playing in the OHL, seemed effective mucking and grinding on the fourth line. He had positive shifts and looked strong in the corners.
So how long will #SecondLineKuznetsov last? Who knows, but hopefully it’s here to stay. He’s too talented of a player to be a fourth-line forechecker and plus, I’d really rather him try to win the Calder than that guy in Nashville.
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