Photo: Washington Post
After scoring 21 points in 18 his first games, Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov suffered an upper-body injury which cost him six games in mid-to-late November. Once he returned, he went on an eight-game assist/point-streak, where he tallied a goal and 10 points in that span. After that, points came to be hard for him to get.
The 26-year old posted one goal and seven points in a span of 16 games and had a rating of -6 in the final three games of that stretch. In fact, he scored just one goal at 5-on-5 in his first 44 games of the season.
After struggling to pile up points for a couple months, Kuznetsov has posted seven goals, 16 points, and a +6 rating in his past 10 games and has looked more like the player that led the Capitals and the NHL with 32 points in the postseason last year. In the two games that he did not record a point in over that span, the Capitals were shutout. Five of those eight games he has gotten on the scoresheet have been multi-point efforts.
While he did struggle in the first few months of the season to produce at even strength, only two of Kuznetsov’s goals in the past 10 games have come on the power-play. One factor of his mid-season slump was that he was getting more defensive responsibility, something he did not get under head coach Barry Trotz the past few seasons.
He’s been getting better on the other side of the puck too as he ranks fifth on the Capitals with 35 takeaways. Some of his offensive struggles early on had to do with puck luck as Kuznetsov ranks second on the Capitals with 148 shots this season, 19 more than the third-highest total, which is currently owned by defenseman John Carlson.
After the Capitals were struggling to find the back of the net during their seven-game losing streak, their longest slide since they lost eight in a row during the 2010-11 season, Kuznetsov was placed on a line with forwards Tom Wilson, whom he had success with when the two played during the Stanley Cup run last spring, and Jakub Vrana, another player with whom he has had success with in the past. He found success with them but after the Capitals were trailing the Florida Panthers by two goals on February 9, captain Alex Ovechkin was moved to that line.
The next game, Kuznetsov played one of the best games in his career, recording two goals and four points in a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
After struggling to find the back of the net early on, Kuznetsov has returned back to his normal point-per-game pace with 15 goals and 54 points in 52 games this season.
Something that has helped him recently is that he’s gone through long scoring droughts before. He posted a goal and two points in a span of eight games during late December-early January before going red-hot into the playoffs last season. He tallied four assists and a -6 rating in the final 12 games of 2015-16, a slump that spilled into the next season as he only scored three times in the first 37 games of the year. Despite going through these long scoring slumps, Kuznetsov has always found a way to get out of it, like he has after going through a lengthy one this season.
Now that he has found the Kuznetsov who finished first in scoring during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, he needs to keep producing at the rate that he is expected to if the Capitals want to go into the playoffs strong and make some noise when April comes around. If Kuznetsov keeps up what he’s going now, he and the Capitals will be in good shape for another long postseason run.
By Harrison Brown