Monday night against the Arizona Coyotes, Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov had the game on his stick.
With the Caps and Coyotes tied 2-2 in overtime, a streaking Kuznetsov received a perfectly-placed pass from TJ Oshie in the slot. Kuznetsov’s next decision was confounding.
The Russian center passed up a shot attempt at a wide open net, instead slinging the puck back to TJ Oshie. The puck caromed harmlessly off the corner boards. Oshie did not expect a return pass.
Friday, head coach Barry Trotz was asked if Kuznetsov should shoot more. Four days after Kuzy’s OT decision, Trotz still had the play on his mind.
“Yeah especially when he’s in the blue paint,” Trotz said sarcastically with a long laugh.
Was that an, uh, interesting decision?
“Yeah. Yeah,” Trotz replied.
“I was ready to jump up because I thought he was sticking it in the net,” Trotz continued. “Then all of a sudden it was in the corner. I think what it does when he does shoot, it will open up his wingers for him, too, because everyone is shading to the wingers right now because they think he’s just looking for his wingers. He’s just got to shoot a little bit more. Be more of a threat. He’s a threat gaining the zone. He’s a threat when he gets to the top of the circles and then he’s looking to dish a little bit. And he can shoot the puck. I use his stick, I know. He’s learned from me. No, he can really shoot it and he’s accurate.
“You need him to be a 25 goal scorer every year, not a 10-goal scorer,” Trotz said. “You need 25 out of him and he’s very capable of that. So yeah, absolutely, we want him to shoot more.”
In Kuznetsov’s first six games of the 2017-18 season, he registered no goals and tallied 11 assists, feeding off Alex Ovechkin’s early accuracy and hat tricks. The center became the first NHL player to record 11 assists through team’s first six games since 2012. Since then, the Russian center has actually been more aggressive, scoring three goals and registering 29 shots during his last nine outtings.
While his decision to pass against the Coyotes was mysterious, Kuznetsov has actually been more selfish offensively since that sixth game of the year.
Chart via Pat Holden
Kuznetsov has always been a pass-first player and he’s achieved a great deal of success with this approach. But, it’s also apparent when watching him that he sometimes passes up prime shooting opportunities and chooses to pass instead.
So, while Trotz is right that Kuznetsov needs to be a more aggressive player, Kuznetsov has been on the right track lately and if he continues to shoot more, the goals will come.
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