Kuznetsov a two-way en­er­gizer

Cen­ter sparks shootout vic­tory against Canucks

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - WEATHER - By Sa­man­tha Pell

VAN­COU­VER, Bri­tish Columbia — Evgeny Kuznetsov’s sec­ond goal Fri­day night ripped past Van­cou­ver Canucks goal­tender Ja­cob Mark­strom with mere tenths of a sec­ond to spare be­fore the end of the sec­ond pe­riod. It was a skilled goal that Cap­i­tals coach Todd Reirden said pro­vided the swing in mo­men­tum in a lop­sided game. The wris­ter from the cir­cle also ex­em­pli­fied the cen­ter’s abil­ity to re­main calm and pa­tient be­fore seiz­ing his op­por­tu­nity.

Kuznetsov’s tally in the mid­dle pe­riod led the Cap­i­tals’ four-goal come­back en route to win­ning 6-5 in a shootout Fri­day against the Canucks, but it was his first goal at 3:18 in the first that started to turn heads. His hit on Canucks’ Micheal Fer­land on the boards led to a Van­cou­ver turnover, which ended up on the speedy stick of Jakub Vrana, who dished it to a streak­ing Kuznetsov for a wrist shot from close range. Kuznetsov had a game-high seven shots on goal.

“I was just in the right mo­ment and per­fect po­si­tion when guys just give it to me,” Kuznetsov said. “You know it felt like I shoot a lit­tle bit more than be­fore and I think that’s it for a cou­ple games for sure.”

Reirden called the game Kuznetsov’s “strong­est of the year.” With the team hav­ing to over­play some of its play­ers in the 4-3 over­time loss to Ed­mon­ton Thurs­day night due to some missed reads and poor play in cru­cial sit­u­a­tions, Reirden knew com­ing into Van­cou­ver for the sec­ond leg of a back-to-back would be a chal­lenge.

Know­ing how eas­ily Kuznetsov skates and cre­ates on the ice, he pulled Kuznetsov aside be­fore the Fri­day’s start and in­formed him of the plan: “Be ready to play a quite a bit tonight.” He fin­ished the game with 21:58 of ice time, the most of any for­ward on the team. Reirden was dou­ble-shift­ing him through­out, play­ing him around the wing at the end of the sec­ond, which led to the goal at the buzzer. In a game in which Alex Ovechkin and John Carl­son were sti­fled, it was Kuznetsov’s play that car­ried the team into their im­pres­sive third pe­riod.

“He had a re­ally strong game and very happy for him,” Reirden said. “Ob­vi­ously [he’s] been through a lot and con­tin­u­ing to im­prove and get bet­ter.”

While Kuznetsov’s of­fen­sive game once again showed up on the stat sheet, it is Kuznetsov’s two-way game that has Reirden im­pressed. In an area that was lack­ing lack year, de­spite Kuznetsov scor­ing 76 points (21 goals, 51 as­sists), he was streaky, with stretches when you couldn’t re­mem­ber see­ing the skilled cen­ter on the ice. De­fen­sively, Kuznetsov needed work, and in the off­sea­son, Reirden start­ing see­ing just that.

Reirden said Kuznetsov’s mindset go­ing into the draw is some­thing that has vastly changed, and by look­ing at some of de­ci­sions Kuznetsov is mak­ing on the ice, there’s been a shift with see­ing him make those de­ci­sions de­fen­sively on the right side of puck. He’s in the cor­rect po­si­tion to be an as­set in the back end.

Even when Kuznetsov wasn’t scor­ing in the pre­vi­ous four games for the Cap­i­tals be­fore Fri­day night, Reirden was happy with how the Rus­sian cen­ter was fo­cus­ing more on that as­pect of his game, in­clud­ing face­offs. Through 10 games, Kuznetsov has a face­off per­cent­age of 48.5%. Last year he ended at 38.7%.

“I think right now it is im­por­tant to him,” Reirden said. “It al­lows him to have the puck more of­ten and he is so dan­ger­ous when he has the puck that I think it has al­lowed his mind to get him more pos­ses­sion time.”

Kuznetsov has five goals and four as­sists through 10 games.

NICK WASS/AP

Cap­i­tals cen­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov played his best game of the sea­son Fri­day against the Canucks, coach Todd Reirden said.

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