After last years’ ridiculous breakout performance, expectations for Russian stud Evgeny Kuznetzov are at an all-time high. Through over a quarter of the year, the star has produced well below forecasted, and the struggles have only seemed to snowball.
The skill and puck precision Kuzy showed the hockey world last year was mind-blowing, taking the league by storm with a sparkling 20 goals and 57 assists, nearly a point per game average.
Dangles and passes that seemed impossible were a regularity for the highly skilled forward, and it helped to create an insanely dominant Capitals offense. He was on the highlight reel seemingly every other game, but this year it’s quite the opposite.Last night, for instance, Kuzy essentially gave up the second goal by himself.
He made an irresponsible play at the blue line, turning the puck over to a speedy David Pastrnak, and getting out hustled after the mistake. What resulted was the second goal for the Bruins, completely changing the direction of the game, giving Boston all the momentum. Now, as a team, the Capitals didn’t play very well and haven’t been up to par over the past few, but a standout disappointment so far has certainly been Kuznetsov.
For a player of his caliber, the lowly 3 goals and 9 assists has got to be incredibly discouraging, as well as frustrating. In games, those issues are becoming apparent, and it should have Caps fans wondering, what gives?
Is he injured? There have been no reports of Kuzy sustaining any kind of injury, or to be nursing anything existing back to health. Unless he is hiding something from the rest of the world, an injury does not seem to be the culprit.
A World Cup of Hockey hangover? Time’s up. It’s been over 25 games now, which is more than enough time for a player like Kuznetsov to adjust. This isn’t the result of a bigger chunk of ice to play on, or a style of play. It’s bigger, and more worrisome.
Homesick? Please, Kuznetsov has made D.C his home and started a family here. Not a valid excuse any longer.
Overrated? Hardly, and what he did last year was no fluke. It is highly unlikely that the skill and numbers Kuznetsov produced last year were a joke. Although a simple decline in production can be understandable, however falling off the face of the earth is not. The flame is still there, it is just very dim and weak at the moment.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Stats don’t lie either, but they are exactly what they are, numbers. When you actually watch Kuzy closely during games, all of the signs of a struggling player are there. It’s almost sad to see how frustrated 92 gets at times. He’s taking whacks at opposing players during plays, and it showed last night in a scuffle in front of the Caps net. Last year, Kuzy was much more calm and composed, but with his struggles and what surely is dissatisfaction, he simply seems PO’d. It is well-known that sometimes, playing angry can pay off, but for guys that have a different type of game, like Jay Beagle or somebody of his nature. Kuzy’s game should be of poise, exactitude and grace, but right now it certainly is not.
Although his skating abilities are second nature and will never take much of a hit, the string that is attached from his stick to the puck has seemed to come unraveled. Last year it seemed that a magnetic field would keep the puck in his possession, and he could release the puck in a pinch with devastating accuracy. Whether it be a “sick” saucer pass to a linemate, or a deceiving shot that beat the best goalies in the league, the puck always seemed to be in 92’s command. This year it seems that after the first couple touches, the puck seems to get away from him, almost as if the magnetic field has been reversed.
Kuzy also seems to be way too hesitant with the puck and in a league of this speed, that will kill an offenses ability to create scoring opportunities. Defenders, and oppositions as a whole are way too aware, and incredibly skilled in breaking up plays. Even a millisecond of indecision can result in a broken possession, or worse, a turnover. This could be a lack of confidence, and second guessing himself. For instance, making a questionable pass instead of taking a shot in an open shooting lane. Most likely, the snowball effect has taken course and instilled a sense of insecurity in Kuznetsov’s game. When that happens, sometimes players feel the need to make a “big” play, when in reality the best thing they can do is start to simplify. Right now, it’s doing more damage than it is good for the Capitals. More often than any Caps fan would like to see, his passes are resulting in opposing possession, including the dangerous cross ice neutral zone play. If Kuznetsov wants to redeem his season and regain his steam, he must start to simplify and let his natural skill pave the way.
There is hope however, because Evgeny Kuznetsov has an absolutely incredible eye for the play, and elite “hockey sense.” An example would be the floater he sent towards the net for the first goal against the Bruins. That kind of velocity, angle, and “sauce” can only be achieved by players that have certain and rare skill. Caps fans should not give up on 92 yet, because again, the flame is still there…it just needs fuel. Simply cutting back on complicating the game could influence Kuzy’s game to return back to the form all enjoyed watching last year. It could be as easy as one solid, two or three-point night that sparks the confidence and artistry that is so deadly to teams around the NHL. Since nobody can pinpoint a specific issue with the production this year, Evgeny will have to dig deep to break himself out of the slump he is in.
What are your thoughts on Kuznetsov’s struggles?
By Brennan Reidy