Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded four assists in Game Four, bringing him to a postseason total of 31 points, the 24th highest total in Stanley Cup playoff history. Six of the players above Kuznetsov are Wayne Gretzky.
So, yeah, it’s sort of been a nice spring for Evgeny Kuznetsov. Now, with a Cup victory within grasp, he’s got a real chance to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player of the playoffs.
Before the Final round began, the Smythe was Marc-Andre Fleury‘s to lose. The Vegas goalie had recorded four shutouts, effectively gifting the Knights at least one series win. He stopped 478 of 505 shots prior to the final round for an all-strength save percentage of 94.7. If he could have held on that rate, Fleury would have secured the best goaltender performance in playoff history, besting Jonathan Quick’s landmark MVP 2012 campaign, with 94.6 percent.
Then he met the Caps.
Fleury has saved 87 of 103 shots so far against Washington, for a save percentage of 84.5. This is bad. It has summarily eliminated Fleury from Conn Smythe contention.
So in comes Kuznetsov, who doesn’t actually care about the trophy. That’s okay. We’ll care on his behalf.
Here’s Kuznetsov’s scoring through the playoffs:
His 31 points leads the NHL, five ahead of his linemate, Alex Ovechkin.
His 12 goals are third in the NHL, behind Ovechkin and Winnipeg’s Mark Sheifele, who are tied at 14.
Of his 19 assists, 11 have been primary. The only player with more primary assists is Nick Backstrom with 12.
And Kuznetsov keeps doing this:
Kuznetsov has generated 6.7 expected individual goals, fifth behind Sheifele, Ovechkin, Marchessault, and Hertl. That might suggest that Kuznetsov is getting unduly lucky, but his all-strength shooting percentage is 13.8 — high, but only slightly above his career average of 11.4. (Also, there’s some evidence that Kuznetsov consistently out-performs expected goals models.)
Kuznetsov has seven multi-point games in the playoffs, including two four-point nights. The Caps have lost just one game in which Kuznetsov notched at least two points, an overtime loss to Columbus in Game One of the first round. Kuznetsov has been held pointless just five times, one of which was Game Two against Vegas, in which Kuznetsov played four and a half minutes before leaving due to injury, thereby ending an 11-game point streak. He miraculously returned for the next game, scoring a goal and assist in a noli me tangere effort.
Kuznetsov has scored two game-winning goals. One came in overtime on May 7, eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins and advancing the Caps to the conference final for the first time in two decades and singlehandedly exorcising the demons that have plagued the Caps since at least the early 1990s.
Then again, Kuznetsov has won just 38.5 percent of his faceoffs. If Alex Ovechkin or Braden Holtby win the MVP, it’ll surely be the faceoffs that did Kuzy in.
Just kidding. No one cares about faceoffs. Kuznetsov has this in the bag.
Headline photo: Jeff Bottari
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