Assessing Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Line Combinations For The 2022-23 Season: What Worked (And What Didn’t Work)

Late last month we took a look at the performance of each and every forward line combination that was deployed by the Washington Capitals over the course of the 2022-23 season. Yesterday we began refining the analysis by beginning to look at line performance for individual players, beginning with captain Alex Ovechkin’s line combinations. Today we take a look at the performance of each and every line combination deployed with Evgeny Kuznetsov.

As we begin to further drill down on what worked and what didn’t work for the Capitals in the 2022-23 season, in order to better understand the Capitals needs this off-season, we can begin by assessing all of the line combinations deployed for each individual player and the resultant overall performance of each of those line combinations.

The following graph plots each and every forward line combination deployed with Evgeny Kuznetsov for the 2022-23 season (sans lines that included Marcus Johansson, Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway). The graph includes the total time each line was on the ice (TOI), the percentage of offensive zone faceoffs each line was on the ice for (OZFO%), the expected goals differential (xGF – xGA) and the expected goals for percentage (xGF%) deployed at five-on-five. [Click to enlarge].

[The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and the NoVa Caps Advanced Analytics Model (NCAAM). If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary]

The thin horizontal red line above bifurcates the positive and negative expected goals for percentages for all of the line combinations.


The Milano-Kuznetsov-Mantha line was Kuznetsov’s best line combination last season. As we’ve seen with many of Sonny Milano’s lines, his positive impact is nowhere more apparent than his play with Kuznetsov.

Same can be said for Connor Sheary, who improved the play of several of the Capitals line combinations this season. Craig Smith also had a positive impact on Kuznetsov’s lines.


In the end, Kuznetsov finished with a personal expected goals for percentage of 42.46%, the worst of his career, and the worst among all Capitals regular forwards for the 2022-23 season.

Kuznetsov, who posted 24 Goals and 78 Points in 79 games played last season, recorded just 12 and 55, respectively, in 81 contests in 2022-23. While he did not wish to evaluate his performance, the 2010 first-round pick offered an assessment of his dip in goal-scoring.

“I have nothing to comment about that at this point in time, sorry”, Kuznetsov replied during his breakdown day presser. “I still need a little more time…fought till the end, trying to get healthy, and all that stuff. But just wasn’t there so I got to sit and think why is all happening, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna come back stronger next year,” said Kuznetsov.

“I feel like last year, there was a few more breakaways, and this year just two breakaways, so I think some of those high-danger shots I used to have I didn’t have this year. There’s a lot of time to think about and refocus but I’m pretty sure I’m going to find a solution.”

In his end-of-season press conference, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan expressed dissatisfaction with Kuznetsov’s game this season.

“Probably disappointed in it. I think it wasn’t as good as last year. I liked his season last year, he played well,” said MacLellan. “For whatever reason, he never quite found his game. I mean there were stretches where I thought he played well, but overall I think he underperformed the season he had last year.”

The 30-year old forward, who has played his entire 10-season career in Washington, has once again found himself in the offseason trade rumor mill. He was not asked about this in his exit interview, although Kuznetsov described his emotions surrounding the team’s failure to play into the summer as “very low”.


It’s hard to quantify how much the Capitals injuries and lineup variations affected the play of Kuznetsov this season. We’ve seen him be very inconsistent during majority of his career in Washington, something that was well known by the Capitals on his draft day. Just to listen to Bob McKenzie’s scouting report on Kuznetsov from his draft day in 2010. It very much summarizes the Kuznetsov of today.

The Capitals knew about the inconsistencies in 2010, so to expect anything different probably isn’t a fair expectation of Kuznetsov. He is who he is. The Capitals got a known quantity. The question now is, do they want to continue with the inconsistent performance.

Next up we will take a look at the performance of T.J. Oshie’s line deployments.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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24 Responses to Assessing Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Line Combinations For The 2022-23 Season: What Worked (And What Didn’t Work)

  1. Anonymous says:

    That scouting report is eerily spot on

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think Kuzy just needs inspiration. Last season sucked for all. Yes, he’s a pro and supposed to bring it every night, regardless. That’s not him.

  3. Anonymous says:

    He’ll turn in a good season next season. That’s why we should keep him one more year.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think he will too. He shows up when the heat is on, or if there is doubt about him. The season before last was a good example. Plenty of speculation about being traded during the offseason, then he showed up at camp in excellent condition and meaning business.

  4. Prevent Defense says:

    Thank you Jon for all the Kuzy stats

    Multiple articles all over NHL press about Kuznetsov being demoralized, or as The Hockey News puts it, “Kuznetsov isn’t interested in anything.”

    Same source says this: “Sergei Fedotov, a Russian hockey agent and longtime friend of Evgeny Kuznetsov, believes that the forward’s time needs to end with the Washington Capitals.”

    Still another writes about Kuzy, “I’ve known Zhenya for a very long time… there are people who are quite disciplined. Zhenya’s not in this category” …..

    Minus-26 will get you into the NHL rumor pages

  5. GRin430 says:

    Kuznetsov is a great skater with good hands and vision on the ice. He has the starting tools that can be used by a 1C to win championships. He has always had those tools.

    What he has not had is the drive to improve on his tool set, get stronger, get better at face-offs or defensive coverage. To play hard every shift. When he’s motivated, he can take over a game with his skating, hands and vision. But he hasn’t been motivated much in his career.

    The Caps have sheltered him from the beginning. O-zone starts, preferably against the other teams’ weaker, or less offensively talented, centers. Try to have the Caps’ best defenders on the ice when he’s out there. Make sure he has at least one line-mate who can help cover for his defensive deficiencies. If he was a true 1C or 2C, they would not have to protect him that way. They didn’t have to protect Backstrom in his prime. .Most other true top-6 C’s don’t need that sort of protection.

    In my view it’s time for both parties to move on, but then I’ve felt that way for years. The Caps need a top-6 C they can count on to play the entire game, night in, night out. Kuznetsov needs a change in scenery, teammates, coaches, weather, locker room music, whatever, to change his mental state. At least for a little while. But he is who he is, and he will eventually revert to his normal mental state.

    At this point, with his history and cap hit, they are unlikely to get much for him in a trade. So what. They’ll be rid of his cap hit and his deficiencies. Addition by subtraction. Then they could use the cap space or this year’s 1st pick to try to find a replacement. His replacement might not provide the highs, but those have been few and far between enough that when balanced with the lows, the Caps would come out ahead if they can just find a solid middle-six C, like another Strome.

    Please make it happen GMBM…

    • Anonymous says:

      Caps are sore for point scorers. Kuznetsov was third on the team in arguably his worst professional season. Cant believe Russian media reports. I bet he not only stays but has a very good year.

      • GRin430 says:

        The Caps need goal scorers, not pass-first players who only play well when they feel like it, and never outside of the offensive zone.

        The stats that Jon and his team keep posting show clearly that the lack of points comes from a lack of finishers, not a lack of passers. The Caps have one real finisher in the line-up most of the time (Oshie is their 2nd best, Wilson is probably 3rd, but they weren’t around much this past season) and Ovechkin can no longer create his own chances most of the time. That means that teams can game-plan and/or match lines to contain him most nights.

        I don’t pay any attention to the Russian media, I watch the player and listen to his own words throughout his career. Unless the Caps hire the world’s best shrink as a coach, Kuznetsov is unlikely to play well in all 3 zones for a long enough period of time to merit keeping him.

    • andrew777dc says:

      I’m with you on that. Time to move on and just find someone more reliable. He can battle his inner demons or whatever it is elsewhere. Or get a new life there, whatever. Don’t think it’s a matter of the head coach (as some ppl tend to think). Someone more consistent and motivated to do the job… Anyway, I’m already repeating what you’ve just said 🙂

    • hockeydruid says:

      I agree it is time for both parties to move on. There are teams out there that will take him even with his salary. Colorado is one and Winnipeg is another and Arizona would be a good spot for him as he would be the Big Dog there. And being the Big Dog is, I think, what he wants and needs and here in Washington he will never be that with Ovie here. Yes he is a head case but even as a head case he would bring a 1st and a 3rd. Now maybe the Caps just take the 1st and a 5th or 6th round pick toss in Mantha and maybe someone like Snively (who as much as I like probably will never see lots of minutes in DC).

      • andrew777dc says:

        What’s down with Snively, btw? Love seeing him on the ice in Caps uniform, but that obviously hasn’t been happening much. Despite more than decent numbers, and just generally the way he plays when he gets a chance, his motivation. Yeah, maybe a couple of games he didn’t kinda fit in, or whatever it was, but generally solid. Eye candy, often. Best chance the Tri-state has of seeing a kid break through for its own team, and yet here we are… Don’t know if it’s just something that didn’t work out between him and Lavi, or anyone in the powers that be (?), but really, can never understand why he’s not playing as a Caps regular…

        • hockeydruid says:

          You have to give up thing to get things. I like Snively however at 27 he needs playing time that he is not going to get here unless Oshie retires or gets hurt. Even then I wonder if he is the 1st or 2nd name on the mind of the GM to all up. In the trade I propsed getting rid of Kuzy and Mantha in the same trade and getting back a 1st and another pick might require a player of low salary going in the trade. maybe he doesn’t play much because he is 5’9 165 pounds (in skates and full gear holding a bag of pucks). Nice to have a local kid play for the home team but that just sells tickets not sure it will win games. Also do not see him as a long term player for this team.

          • andrew777dc says:

            I was wondering whether it was the size, but I didn’t realize he was not just lugging his own weight around 😆 Sheary must be of the same variety then, huh?)
            Snively didn’t seem like a pushover whenever I saw him playing for the Caps (but maybe I missed something). And I don’t really follow him in Hershey, just see him on the scoresheet every now and then. I don’t know if it’s just about him or general attitude toward Hershey players. But among those that have been called up occasionally in recent years (Protas and Ds aside), he’s been perhaps the best, most active and most consistent for the Caps, in my opinion.
            Anyway, in terms of offloading Kuzy, I’d rather play safe and get a more developed player from elsewhere, someone more surefire to get out of the slump (and light up Ovi’s remaining years as a Capital). Even if the Caps have to retain part of Kuzy’s pay. A simpler trade or two separate deals. And build up younger players, give them a greater chance, after all… Not just Snively. Selling off the best assets does fall in line with latest “corporate strategy”, cause it brings in extra new assets, frees up cap space, etc. But we need to break through sooner, not later, not go too low as we “retool”…

            • hockeydruid says:

              I understand where you are coming from however there will be no real retool/rebuild until after Ovie not only has the record (probably 2 1/2 years) and retires. Looking at it that way Snively would then be 30 and a little long in the tooth to be a rookie. I like his spunk and speed and get after people however in an 82 game slate in the NHL with players of size might we not be looking at someone getting injured like Oshie?

              Yes Sheary is almost the same 5’9 175. and he turns 31 next month. How many “small” players can you put on the ice when the league seems to be looking for redwoods?

              Also understand you desire to get a player for Kuzy however that player will probably come with a high salary already in place and maybe similar baggage; which the Caps don’t need. I would prefer getting the pick and then maybe package picks or players to move up in the draft if possible. If not then just like the player we take at 8 this one would not be ready for a year or 3 so fits fine with Ovies retirement.

              • andrew777dc says:

                Remembering Kenny Rogers, The Gambler:
                You got to know when to hold ‘em
                Know when to fold ‘em

                There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done

                Good luck, BMac! And we all better buckle up! 🙄

  6. GRin430 says:

    One other thought that has been bouncing around my brain (ouch!) is that the Caps might package Kuznetsov and a decent prospect along with the 8th pick to move up several spots in the draft. Or maybe package Kuznetsov, a prospect and the Caps’ 2nd pick to move up in the second round, or late in the first, if there’s a player remaining that they think would be worth paying that price for.

    It probably won’t happen, but it might be the best return they could hope for.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      We’ve been kicking that ideas around as well. Not far fetched. There is very little rook for prospect promotion in the next 2-3 years, so you have to consider the value vs. trading up or trading for a proven veteran to add to top six.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Kuznetsov certainly evokes fan emotion! Right now he is the Caps primary (maybe only) “Head Case.” I’d rather expend the Ovechkin-window with players who really REALLY want it.

    • hockeydruid says:

      I agree that he is a :head case”. I also thinks that he is way more concerned about how often his name is on TV or in the papers and less about how he performs as a hockey player. He had, maybe he still has, the ability to be one of the better players in the game today however he does not have that drive, 2nd gear, that propels him into elite status and he lacks consistency. I can’t help but wonder if his teammates are not tired of his act. I feel that the Caps gave him to long a contract for way to much money to keep him hungry or interested in the game. One has to wonder if the stories and pictures of him partying several years ago with nose candy are still happening today and if they are that is a shame.

      • Rich427 says:

        druid, I have wondered the same about the possibility of him still having nose candy issues. It maybe unfair, but a guy that talented and not motivated on the ice sometimes is impacted by outside influences. I also agree that he maybe struggling being in the shadow of Ovi. I watch a lot of uninspired play by Kuzy, EXCEPT, when he gets an opportunity in a shootout. There he is the only guy on the ice. Him against the goalie. At that moment every set of eyes are on him and I think he thrives on that. I do believe he can excel somewhere if he is the center of attention and that is not going to happen with the Caps.

  8. Anonymous says:

    His trade value is too low right now. They need to keep him at least for start of season, wait til he hits a hot stretch.

  9. Jon Sorensen says:

    Greetings folks! Just a quick note, if you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to NoVa Caps posts in the “subscribe” box located in the upper right corner. Thank you!

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