Scoreless no more, Evgeny Kuznetsov hopes Capitals can grab momentum

Scoreless no more, Kuznetsov hopes Caps can grab momentum originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — Heading into Monday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, Evgeny Kuznetsov was still searching for his first goal of the season.

The 30-year-old never went more than seven games without a goal in 2021-22, putting together a career year playing alongside Alex Ovechkin on the Capitals’ top line. Washington is relying on him even more this season with injuries piling up. Yet 12 games in, Kuznetsov was the only forward on the team to have appeared in at least five games without scoring.

“I think the things through the course of the year happen like that where you go through some games and you’re not scoring goals but still making plays,” head coach Peter Laviolette said at morning skate before the game. “It’ll come to him eventually. He’s shooting the puck and trying to bring pucks to the net. It hasn’t gone his way so far. I think eventually they’ll drop.”

He still had seven assists, so it wasn’t like Kuznetsov didn’t generate any chances. But with the Capitals experiencing a dip in offense over their previous six games going into a date with Connor McDavid and the Oilers, they needed the veteran center to step up.

Kuznetsov woke up his stick, scoring twice on the power play and adding two helpers to lead the Capitals to an impressive 5-4 victory over the Oilers. It was the eighth four-point game of his career and his first since Feb. 11, 2019, against the Los Angeles Kings. After the game, he joked that he had gotten his fill of goals to last him a while

“Yeah, I'm good for another 10 games now,” Kuznetsov said as he laughed.

His big night was a reflection of the Capitals’ ability to play the vertical style of hockey that has brought them so much success in the Ovechkin era. Most of the teams Washington has faced this season have forced them to dump and chase — pass the puck ahead of their skaters and try to retrieve it deeper in the offensive zone.

Kuznetsov produces his best plays when the Capitals carry the puck into the zone and he showed that on the receiving end of a between-the-legs Ovechkin pass late in the third period.

“It was the first game where we hadn’t played a locked team in the neutral zone,” Laviolette said in his postgame press conference. “We were able to generate a little bit of speed off the rush and puck possession as opposed to just putting it behind them. So I think when he plays that style he’s better when the puck in his hands and he’s distributing and he’s looking and attacking the game with speed.”

The win also snapped a four-game losing streak for the Capitals just in time for a date with the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, who have dropped eight in a row but will play Wednesday on four days’ rest. Washington hasn’t gone consecutive days without a game since Oct. 24-26 and won’t do so again until Nov. 20-22.

Between the mounting injuries, frustrating results and relentless schedule, the Capitals have already faced a fair amount of adversity this season. Kuznetsov’s lack of goals was perhaps the embodiment of those struggles. Now that he’s gotten that out of the way, he hopes the team can start to build its own momentum too.

“Definitely, tomorrow morning will be better than last eight mornings,” Kuznetsov said. “I felt like we play good but not good enough for wins lately, but this win will give us big breath and we can breathe a little bit and coaches can finally show us some positive moments because that's big when you come next morning and instead look to those mistakes.

“We can watch some positives, and I'm hoping that we're going to build after this game for sure because that's a pretty good team and I felt like even when we give up goal we was never giving up. We were always positive on the bench, we always support each other because we missing a lot of guys, a lot of D guys and they stepped up today.”