Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t score a goal last month, making this is how slowest start since 2014-15. Now, with virtually all his buddies injured, the Washington Capitals really need their impish ragamuffin to produce some goals.
I think it’ll happen soon.
We wouldn’t be talking about this at all had Jaccob Slavin not performed this unreal block the other night. Kuznetsov had a clear shot.
This is elite from Jaccob Slavin pic.twitter.com/aRgTaVbIPH
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) November 1, 2022
But Slavin’s block was successful, and Kuznetsov remains snakebitten. All 17 of his shots that made it on-goal have been stopped.
Besides luck, I’m not entirely sure why it’s happening. Beneath the scoreboard, Kuznetsov has gently ticked up most of his offensive rates.
He’s attempting eleven shots per hour, which is not far off his career high, though way fewer of them are getting through. A full 39 percent of Kuznetsov’s attempts are being blocked by opponents, effectively a doubling of his historical rates.
That could suggest a different (and worse) shot selection from Kuznetsov. It could also explain why opponents are generating so much danger when he’s on the ice. Opponents earn 3.3 expected goals per hour during Kuznetsov’s shifts, the highest among any forward. Blocked shots can lead to turnovers (after all, any shot attempt means giving up possession in hopes you either score or regain possession). That’s precisely what happened in the Boston, LA, and Carolina games – Kuznetsov had a shot blocked somewhere around the blue line, then the Caps had to play defense.
Given that Kuznetsov seems to be doing the rest right (five assists, 1.3 expected goals individually), I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his game. I’d like to see him cough up the puck less and wait for the good bounces to come.
But that’s just during even strength. Kuznetsov received a major demotion when he was removed from the first power play unit on October 15. His relegation to PP2 has cost Kuznetsov a little over half his average five-on-four time per game. The recent injury woes seem to have reverted that. Kuznetsov’s power-play time saw two goals in this week’s back-to-back games.
Kuznetsov got the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s goal against Carolina.
And he was along the half wall when Johansson scored from the slot against Vegas.
I wouldn’t call Kuznetsov the playmaker in either situation, but that he was getting ice time with the first-unit guys again is encouraging.
So this isn’t an alarm of any kind. This is a polite reminder that with Oshie, Carlson, Backstrom, Brown, and I’m sure some other guys I can’t think of right now all out of commission, it sure would be nice if Kuznetsov lit up the scoreboard a bit.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins
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