Previewing the Washington Capitals 2021-22 season in the prevailing vocabulary of our time: vibes.
In this edition: Evgeny Kuznetsov can do this.
Once upon a time, Evgeny Kuznetsov was an elite hockey player — a world champion within spitting distance of being named playoff MVP. TJ Oshie once said of him: “I think he’s up there with the all-around top-five players in the league. He just doesn’t get the recognition for some reason.” And Kuznetsov replied, “I don’t give a shit about that.”
Kuznetsov proved it by nosediving his career, putting up one of the worst defensive performances ever, getting suspended for drug use, and contracting COVID *twice* following repeated protocol violations. In May, the Caps were reportedly through with him, but the rumored trade never came to pass.
So now we’re bird-walking up to game one of 82, and Kuznetsov is just another one of the guys. With Backstrom out to injury, Kuznetsov is back on the top line. Peter Laviolette was deploying him on the penalty kill in the preseason, which could be promising — or at the very least amusing.
And — darn it — Kuznetsov is delivering top-shelf quotes again:
“. . . The goal is for me to get my smile back in the game,” Kuznetsov said about stepping up in Backstrom’s absence. “If I don’t smile in the game that means something is bad, right? We don’t play good. For me, it was always important to see guys happy, to see smiles during the game. Even if you lose the game, you come back in the locker room you see it. Man, we did everything we could, we tried, it just didn’t go our way. We come back next day, we happy, we work. But when you always in negative mood, you not happy it doesn’t make you better, it’s not easy for you to compete.”
That’s the same winsome attitude that won us all over in the first place. A joy-first approach to a sport desperately in need of it.
Caps GM Brian MacLellan seems to be on board as well. “I like where he’s at mentally, physically,” MacLellan said on my birthday. “He’s come here in really good shape. He’s added some good weight strength-wise, looks to be excited to play this season. I think we’re all looking for a good response from him and a good year.”
So here’s the vibe: It’s kuzy comeback szn.
Next vibe: Great Eight vs Great One
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