Photo: Patrick McDermott
Nicklas Backstrom returned to the line-up on Saturday after missing the first three games of the season due to hip surgery. But Nicky didn’t immediately return to his customary first-line center spot next to Alex Ovechkin. Instead he centered the second line with Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson.
That was partly because Barry Trotz wanted to bring Backstrom along slowly, but also because Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Caps’ third-year center, has been playing well with Ovechkin and TJ Oshie so far.
“Right now it’s going to be static,” Trotz said Saturday when asked about the first and second line center position. “There’s nothing wrong with the Ovi, Oshie, and Kuzy line. That gives us lots of flexibility.”
While Kuznetsov has only two assists and four shots through his first four games, he’s authored several mind-boggling plays in the offensive zone. There was that give-and-go pass with Ovechkin against Chicago that resulted in an Ovechkin goal, then there were these two sick dishes against the Hurricanes.
The first play we’ve seen several times before last season. In the second period, Kuznetsov skated the puck behind Carolina’s net and then sent a no-look pass back the opposite direction into the slot for TJ Oshie. A lucky Cam Ward managed to snag Oshie’s shot with his glove.
The next play looked simple, but it was anything but.
While forechecking with Alex Ovechkin, Kuznetsov races to keep the puck inside the blue line. Then in a split second he sends a no-look, backhand-saucer pass rink-wide to Alex Ovechkin.
Ovi whiffs, but you gotta see this.
During the telecast, Craig Laughlin described the dish as “very impressive” while Joe Beninati called it “impressive.” So it was impressive, but why?
I reached out to former Capital Andrew Gordon to see if he could explain it.
“The pass Kuzy makes is unreal because of how fast it takes shape, and the fact that he is jammed up between defenders, the wall and the blue line,” Gordon said. “Not a ton of area there. The fact that it’s a long pass that he has to put some mustard on to get there makes it even more impressive.”
“Your backhand is always going to be way weaker than your forehand,” he continued. “Some guys don’t have the strength to make that pass hard enough to be a threat by the time it gets to Ovi. The accuracy is also impressive because to get the pass off with the pressure and space restrictions, he pretty much has to look down and focus pretty much completely on the puck — leaving the pass’s accuracy to instinct. Like a QB tossing a long ball into double coverage, he knows there’s a guy down there, but in a fraction of a second he reads his space and just allows his body to do the math on how hard to toss it.”
I asked Gordon if he could make a pass like that.
“In practice with twenty pucks and no pressure, maybe once,” he said with a laugh.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.