In Saturday’s 6-1 trouncing of the Sabres, Evgeny Kuznetsov caught my eye on a couple of goals. On the lone Sabres tally, Kuzy seemed confused on where he should be. On one Caps goal, Kuzy was instrumental in helping to end Brooks Laich’s long goal-less streak.
Before taking a look at the two plays, I’d caution against reaching grand conclusions on Kuznetsov’s game based off of any two plays, including these. But, Kuznetsov has been criticized for inconsistent play this season, and performances like the one detailed below are an example of what draws that criticism.
Here’s what Barry Trotz had to say about the rookie’s development this morning:
Question about Kuznetsov's development turned into Trotz praising the lines altered by the Glencross acquisition: pic.twitter.com/l7fWRVlrsE
— Alex Prewitt (@alex_prewitt) March 11, 2015
There was plenty of blame to go around on the Sabres lone goal, but Kuznetsov’s defensive play (or lack thereof) was particularly perplexing. Simply put, he got caught watching. He’s at top left here.
The play starts with Kuznetsov losing a draw. Then he just hangs out.
The puck goes back to the point, having been crossed from one Sabres D to another, but Kuznetsov is still basically on the faceoff dot.
The puck goes behind the net. Kuznetsov moves a few feet, presumably to get a better view of the play.
At this point, he should be supporting Brooks Orpik behind the net, as the Sabres’ player clearly has inside positioning on the Caps’ defender. At the very least, his head should be on a swivel watching for a player that may be crashing to the net.
His head is not on a swivel. He’s stationary, watching the puck.
The Sabres score. Kuznetsov is still hanging out in the faceoff circle.
No broad generalizations about Kuznetsov’s game should be taken from this one play. Bad plays, including mental lapses, happen. Shake it off and go get one back.
Kuznetsov also played a pivotal role in Brooks Laich breaking his goalless drought.
Kuznetsov made it happen. His forechecking pressure causes the Sabres’ defender to rush a clearing pass. The clear is picked off by Tom Wilson, and the rest is history.
Kuznetsov has been asked to fill a huge role in his first full year in the NHL, as the 2C on a contending team. The jury still seems to be out on his ability to fill the role long-term, but the enormity of the job he’s being asked to do shouldn’t be understated.
I’d caution against using either of these plays to make sweeping conclusions about Kuznetosv’s game. But, Kuznetsov is likely to continue to draw criticism as inconsistent with lapses like the one against Buffalo.
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