For Evgeny Kuznetsov, the start of the 2020-21 season has been anything but smooth sailing. The Capitals abbreviated training camp lasted all of 10 days. Not a lot of time to get acquainted with a new head coach and get comfortable with his new way of doing things. However, the situation was the same for everyone, not just Kuznetsov.
But then the 28-year-old centerman would play in just four games of the regular season before he was sidelined with the COVID virus. Not only was he unable to skate, but he was dealing with fairly serious symptoms from the virus. He essentially sat idle and focused on his health.
He would play in just seven more games before he was sidelined again with an upper body injury, missing two more games. By March 3, Kuznetsov had missed 10 of the Capitals first 21 games of the season. Not an ideal start.
However, since March 3, things have started to settle down for Kuznetsov. He has three goals and two assists in his last five games, including this wide-angle gem from last night. It was somewhat reminiscent of his game 7 goal against the Islanders in 2015. Patience, and a sharp-angle shot.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 26, 2021
Kuznetsov admitted it took time to get back into hockey shape, but more importantly, he needed time to understand what Laviolette was specifically needing from him. To Kuznetsov’s credit, he recently went to Laviolette to ask him just that.
“I start understand more what the coach wants from me. After the pretty long break after COVID, wasn’t easy one to get back in hockey shape. I hope I’m gonna continuing to grow and I hope the team gonna play much better and know we can be successful,” said Kuznetsov after Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Devils.
Kuznetsov was asked what specifically he and Laviolette talked about, as far as specific needs from him.
”That’s not your business”, said Kuznetsov, finishing with his patented wry smile, leaving the media in stitches.
Capitals bench boss Peter Laviolette was asked about the meeting with Kuznetsov following Thursday night’s game. Kuznetsov went to Laviolette to get a better understanding of what Laviolette was looking for, but also asked for more responsibility in the last five minutes of games and to get more important faceoffs.
“The game has to match the request, and what players want. Everybody wants to play in the last five minutes. And so the game has to match that I’m seeing on the ice. You know it was a pretty honest conversation,” said Laviolette.
“He wants to be trusted. He wants that responsibility and I was looking for more. From his game. I was looking for more drive, more attack, more puck possession, I was looking for him to be a difference maker, so when those things happen then I think the responsibility comes with it.”
For now, it appears both Kuznetsov and Laviolette are on the same page, and the results are coming to fruition for both player and coach. Credit Kuznetsov for taking the initiative and going to Laviolette to figure things out.
By Jon Sorensen