Kuznetsov skated hard in loss to Penguins

Published: Mar 11, 2014 02:03am EDT
By Jeff Kryglik, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 11, 2014 @ 02:03am EDT


WASHINGTON -- Evgeny Kuznetsov registered 10:22 of ice time in his NHL debut, but it wasn't good enough as the Washington Capitals fell 3-2 at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

The Russian native has received a warm reception since arriving to the States and that sentiment was echoed when he was formally introduced over the Verizon Center public address system. Fans greeted the 21-year-old with a standing ovation as he donned No. 92 in red for the first time as a professional in the National Hockey League.

He has been labeled as a 'savior' for the 2013-14 season, but after his performance tonight, it is clear that the former first-round selection in 2010 still has a lot of work to do in developing his game. But that was expected given little to no practice time with the Capitals and no AHL preparatory stint to help acclimate him to a different style of hockey.

Keep in mind, he's coming over from the KHL where the rink is Olympic-sized - wider than the NHL rinks - and the talent pool is much better where everyone is good in the NHL. Comcast Sportsnet Washington's color commentator Craig Laughlin told 106.7 The Fan in D.C. before the game that the transition Kuznetsov is making is similar to that of a CFL player bringing his game to the NFL. The KHL features teams with 5-6 good players and the rest are a dramatic drop-off. The drop-off doesn't exist in the NHL. Everyone is talented in one way or another.

Kuznetsov noticed this during his early shifts of the game. He skated hard and was aggressive throughout his first five shifts, but appeared lost and out-of-place at times. The chemistry with the fourth line wasn't there and it wasn't with any other line he appeared on simply because he's being inserted into a lineup with just 17 games remaining before Monday's game went final. 

The young winger played well with his hands and found a way to even impress head coach Adam Oates a midst his limited role Monday. 

"I thought he did great," Oates said. "As we talked about earlier today and yesterday, we have to be patient and be realistic about expectations because it's a foreign league for him. It's a foreign system. He's never played this way. He's never played in front of this many people, really. For me, I want to ease him in [and] use him as much as possible and be fair to him. [We want to] give him a chance to grow with the team."

As the game progressed, Kuznetsov saw more playing time and was able to not only garner 1:10 of power play ice time, but he was also afforded the opportunity to play with the top line featuring center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Alexander Ovechkin. While he didn't necessarily cease the opportunity with any eye-opening plays as he appeared to cover more ice than make any significant pushes, Oates understands it's still a feeling out process even through his developmental stages that the Capitals need to win games first and foremost.

"I think [Kuznetsov] is trying to understand how to play within our system," Oates told reporters. "It's a total opposite of where he's been [the KHL], and trying to figure out where to go in certain situations. I think that North American hockey is so much more structured."

Oates felt that his young prospect did a few things well and every small victory for him can only provide a spark for the club. 

"There [was] a couple of moments," Oates said. "One shift in the second where you saw his hands, cut through the neutral zone and get a shot away. You could see his vision at times.[Kuznetsov's] poised with the puck; he's a great puck-handler."

The final stat line on Kuznetsov's debut reads as follows: 10:22 TOI, 1:10 PP TOI, 12 shifts, two SOG, one blocked shot. 

When he met with the media following the game, the youngster spoke through a Russian translator and noticed one thing similar to the KHL and NHL. 

"A lot of guys told me it's just like in Russia," Kuznetsov said in regards to the Capitals-Penguins rivalry. "[The intensity] is just like those [rivalries] in Russia and I know what it's like."

Kuznetsov and the rest of the Capitals will have to rest up quick as they are set to face these same Penguins Tuesday night in Pittsburgh in what is yet another must-win for Washington. 


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Jeff Kryglik
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