The Washington Capitals entered Pittsburgh with their backs against the wall. The club is in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and sits four points behind the Penguins for the second wild-card spot. A loss would virtually guarantee the Caps miss the postseason for the first time in nine years.
“It’s such a big game,” Peter Laviolette said after the team’s morning skate.
One player who have a smaller role in the big game is Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Russian center skated on the third line with Anthony Mantha and Craig Smith.
Lines against Pittsburgh (source)
8-Ovechkin, 17-Strome, 43-Wilson
59-Protas, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
39-Mantha, 92-Kuznetsov, 16-Smith
73-Sheary, 26-Dowd, 96-Aube-Kubel
Saturday’s game marks the third straight game Kuznetsov has started in the bottom six. It comes on the heels of a Russian report that Kuzy requested a trade from the Capitals and has wanted out for the last two years.
Kuznetsov, who spent all of last season as the team’s first-line center, has received two fewer minutes of ice time on average this year (18:13 vs 20:16).
Kuznetsov’s been used all over the lineup by Laviolette this season due to the Capitals’ injury woes and his lack of production. He started the season centering Alex Ovechkin on the first line but was quickly demoted to the second line in favor of Dylan Strome. Kuznetsov has also fluctuated between the first and second power-play units.
Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh marks the 10th game this season Kuznetsov has centered the third line or lower. He also served as the team’s checking-line center twice.
Games Kuznetsov started on the third line or lower:
Typically, Laviolette uses his third line for more defensive assignments. Sometimes he stashes players there who he thinks he needs to shelter.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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