For two seasons, Evgeny Kuznetsov has terrorized NHL teams with his twister pass. As the Caps center would skate around the net, he would blindly pass the puck behind his body to a crease-crashing teammate. The goalie, assuming Kuznetsov would complete his revolution around the net, would guard against a wraparound shot or forehand pass. That assumption would result in Kuznetsov’s teammate having a wide open net to shoot at on the short side.
Tuesday night in Winnipeg, Kuznetsov played some hockey chess and flipped the script on his opponent. Kuzy did not attempt the twister pass to setup Marcus Johansson’s fifth goal in three games, but the Jets assumed one was coming. And that’s why Johansson scored easily.
Here’s what the Jets were expecting.
Two Aprils ago, Kuznetsov completed the behind-his-body pass to Johansson for a goal against the Bruins. Take a look at how defenseman Dennis Seidenberg hesitates when deciding whether to cover Johansson or the pass coming out the back side. That little hesitation was all that Kuznetsov needed to fit the pass in.
Now check out the same moment of decision for the Jets’ defenders last night. Neither Ex-Cap Matthieu Perreault nor defenseman Tobias Enstrom hesitate at all. They both assume the twister pass is coming to Tom Wilson at the short side of the net. One of those players needed to cover Johansson. Neither did.
Last February, Barry Trotz pointed out why the play was so successful: it always keeps opponents guessing.
“Kuzy does it with such ease,” Trotz said. “A lot of guys can make that play, but a lot of times he makes it when he’s on the other side of the post. He’s already there. Once he comes halfway, as Mitch (Korn) will tell you, you have to respect that the guy’s going to wrap it [around].”
“Kuzy’s done it a few times this year, but he’s also faked and gone the other way,” Trotz continued. “You have to respect it. It’s all deception. That’s what makes him great. What amazes me is that Kuzy does it a lot of times when he’s already at the other post and he puts a saucer pass across the net to someone who’s right there. You gotta respect both.”
The lesson to be learned here: go to the net, short side or far side, and Kuznetsov will find you.