As an entertaining but sloppy game for the Washington Capitals wound down, Evgeny Kuznetsov held the puck on the goal line. Everyone was thinking pass first. Except for the 26-year-old Russian, who fired a nearly zero angle shot past Dallas Stars goalie Ben Bishop’s shoulder. Cue the bird celebration and a lucky point in the standings for the discombobulated Capitals.
“[Kuznetsov] is special player,” Caps head coach Todd Reirden told me after the game. “I think he continues to grow and get better and think his game continues to evolve. He’s finding different ways to score goals.”
The 6’ 7” Bishop, who had a solid game with 29 saves on 32 shots, is an imposing presence in the net. He leaves little room for shots to make it past him. Somehow, Harlem Pucktrotter Kuznetsov beat him from the side.
“It’s tough to score goals on these bigger goaltenders,” Reirden said. “It’s about trying to find just the smallest of space to be able to slide in through. We’re fortunate to be able to have these players playing for the Washington Capitals.”
Kuznetsov has become a weapon on the power play for the Caps this year. After scoring just seven power play goals in 79 games last season, Kuznetsov has hit the back of the net six times on the man-advantage in only 12 games. Moreover, Kuznetsov continues to set up his teammates, with 10 points on the power play in this campaign -- so far outpacing his 30 points last season
“I think his shot mentality on the power play is something we saw in the playoffs last year and we continue to see him add that element,” Reirden said of Kuznetsov increased propensity to shoot the puck.
Overall, the Capitals are scoring on the power play at a remarkable 36.9% clip.
Reirden credited the team’s success to one core philosophy.
“It all hinges around unpredictable play by our power play in terms of movement, motion, shots,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking to do, be unpredictable.”
The Capitals have been shaky this season. One thing, however, remains championship-caliber.