After a brilliant, breakout, 20-goal, 77-point season in 2015-16, Evgeny Kuznetsov was expected to continue to be a key contributor for the Capitals this season. Instead, the Washington winger has struggled, on pace through half the season to finish with totals closer to those of his rookie campaign than his stellar sophomore year.
Even if that’s the case, though, all it takes is one single play for everyone — Kuznetsov included — to remember that his 2015-16 season wasn’t really all that much of a fluke. He impressed during his second year with a mixture of clever playmaking skills and dynamite hands that often found him on highlight reels, and Monday night in Montreal, Kuznetsov got himself right back into those same play-of-the-night conversations.
In the third period of a 1-1 game in which the Canadiens had just evened the score roughly one minute earlier, Kuznetsov found himself cutting through center ice when Alex Ovechkin reached back to tap a pass into Kuznetsov’s path. Picking up the puck with a head of steam, Kuznetsov cut over the blueline, went one-on-one with Jeff Petry, made a quick fake to go outside before pulling the puck clean around a stick check and then deposited the puck over the blocker of Carey Price:
It took all of 54 seconds for Kuznetsov to score after the Canadiens’ equalizer, and less than three minutes later, Kuznetsov added to his point total on the evening by forcing a turnover deep in the Montreal zone before flipping a pass out front to Brett Connolly for an insurance marker. It was Kuznetsov’s dazzling marker that stood as the game-winner, though.
With the goal and assist on Monday night, Kuznetsov is now on pace to finish the campaign with 10 goals and 55 points. Those are somewhat disappointing numbers considering the hope was he’d take another step forward and become a consistent 80-point player starting this season. However, with the long-term in mind, Kuznetsov failing to match his past season’s totals could be the best thing for the Capitals.
Currently in the final season of a two-year, $6-million deal and set to become a restricted free agent at season’s end, Kuznetsov could have been in line for a massive, bank-breaking raise come the summer. And while he’s still earned himself a payday, it might not be the $6-million-plus figure that some would have expected. Any amount of saving the Capitals can find on a Kuznetsov deal could pay immediate dividends with 12 roster regulars in line for new contracts ahead of 2017-18.
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