ARLINGTON, Va. — Spencer Carbery knows the Washington Capitals need to make strides. After all, that’s why he’s here.
He’s tasked with returning the team to the playoffs, something the Capitals have done for the previous nine seasons before finishing sixth in the Metro Division a season ago. But armed with a roster nearly identical to that of the team that snapped the streak, a new approach behind the bench stands to be the biggest adjustment in moving toward that goal.
For Carbery, that involves maximizing the production of Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“I think there’s a ton of value in what he does offensively … Kuzy does a lot of those things that lead to positive things offensively,” Carbery said. “What he can do with the puck and the things that he can create from an entry standpoint, from a controlling play standpoint, from a get the puck to the middle of the rink standpoint, there’s a lot of value in that if you want to control play and if you want to generate quality score chances.”
One year removed from a near-point per game season in 2021-22, Kuznetsov tallied a mere 55 points — 12 goals, 43 assists — in 81 games last season. The dip in production was only accentuated by the team’s injury woes, with Tom Wilson, John Carlson and others all missing substantial time.
Kuznetsov has shown an ability to be a dynamic scorer or, at the very least, a supplemental one. He’s never led the team in goals scored, but has placed among the team’s top six finishers five times during his 10 seasons in Washington, including a second place finish with 27 goals in the 2017-18 season en route to the Capitals’ Stanley Cup win.
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But even if he struggles to find the net, Kuznetsov has a track record of contributing in other ways. He ranks sixth in franchise history with 386 assists — an important skill as Alex Ovechkin chases down the all-time goals scored record.
“We need him,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We need him to be competitive. And for our team to be competitive, we need him to be playing at his top level, so, we’ll see where he’s at.”
So far, Kuznetsov has been receptive to Carbery’s approach. The team is only through two days of training camp, but the 30-year-old center is already liking what he hears from the rookie head coach.
“He wants to keep the puck in the middle” Kuznetsov said. “He wants to control the game and he wants to hold on to that puck. I’m a big fan of that. When you control the game, when you hold on to that puck, when you play with the puck and you always force the best players in a position to play without (the) puck, I think that’s how you can keep them frustrated and all that stuff. So there is a lot of positivity in my head when I talk to him.”