After a rough 2020-21 season full of inconsistent play and off-ice issues where he finished with nine goals and 29 points in 41 games, center Evgeny Kuznetsov found himself at the center of trade discussions. The 29-year-old has seemed to rekindle what the team has been looking for from him: some of the magic he had in 2018 when he led the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 20 assists and 32 points in 24 games.
After earning a goal in the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday, Kuznetsov is riding a three-game goal- and point-streak where he has four goals and six points.
KUUUUUUUUZ! Got one back pic.twitter.com/vjqLS3AloD
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 23, 2021
“He’s in really good shape. His mindset is the right direction. He has kind of bounced back and he’s in the right direction. It’s good for us. It’s good for him. It’s fun to play with him. It’s fun to see his smile. It’s fun to see what he can do on the ice,” Capitals captain and linemate Alex Ovechkin told the media following Saturday’s game.
Head coach Peter Laviolette has rewarded Kuznetsov with more responsibility as he has averaged 51 seconds per game on the penalty kill after averaging just two a year ago. With center Nicklas Backstrom out until at least November 6 due to a hip injury, Kuznetsov has been leaned on more and has delivered so far.
Kuznetsov’s 55.05% Corsi-for percentage, 55.86% expected goals-for percentage, and 56.72% scoring chances-for percentage at five-on-five this season are all better than his previous career-highs in each category. The season may be just five games old, but it is promising to see that Kuznetsov is not just scoring at rates he has not scored at in seasons but also help driving the play up the ice.
In five games this season, Kuznetsov has earned four goals (tied for fourth in the NHL), five assists (tied for 12th), nine points (also tied for fourth), and a +5 rating (tied for 22nd).
Kuznetsov has gotten on the scoresheet in all but one game this season, a game where the Capitals only mustered one goal past reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After earning an average of 1.41 takeaways-per-60 last campaign, that number has jumped to 2.40 to start this season. Kuznetsov has also made smarter plays with the puck at the beginning of 2021-22 as his average of 1.20 giveaways-per-60 are down from the 1.67 he averaged a season ago.
There is still a long way to go and the most important thing is that Kuznetsov is going at the right time but he has done everything you could ask of him to start this season. Now, he has to keep it up. And the Capitals’ success hinges on it.
By Harrison Brown