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Capitals 2021 In Review: Ovechkin’s Greatness, Kuznetsov’s Revenge Tour, Rookie Rewards

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Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov

For the Washington Capitals, the year of 2021 was a bit of a roller coaster. A global pandemic not only led to a shortened season, another brief pause and no Olympic break, but at the same time, opened doors for the organization.

Ultimately, Washington ended up having a decent past 365 days and will look to end it on the right note against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. But, before puck drop, let’s take a look back at the top takeaways and moments to reflect on as Washington heads into 2022.

Alex Ovechkin Stays Red Hot Despite “Bulls— Talk”

Washington has seen several changes over the last year due to a number of circumstances, but one constant has been Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals captain signed a five-year extension in the offseason, intending to finish his career — and try to break Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring record — with D.C. Critics wondered if that was the best move, let alone if Ovechkin would be able to keep the momentum going as time goes by, and so far, he’s proved them wrong.

The Great 8 had the best start of his 17-year career to open 2021-22 and ranks third in the NHL in scoring with 22 goals and 48 points through 32 games so far this season. Ovechkin is on pace for 66 assists, which would be a new career-high, and already surpassed last season’s point total. He started 2021-22 at sixth on the NHL’s all-time goals list, and by Nov. 12, he was in sole possession of fourth place. Right now, he sits at 752 career goals, just 14 away from tying Jaromir Jagr for third of all-time. Not only that, but he tied Dave Andreychuk for the most power-play goals in NHL history after netting his 274th career PPG on Dec. 15 against Chicago.

“The answer, it’s… I didn’t pay attention to all those bull**** talk,” the 36-year-old said of his critics. “You know, it’s good for them. Good for me. Whatever.”

Ovechkin will look to continue his descent and has also put himself on the Hart Trophy radar yet again. The only two players who have put up more points are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, both of who are under 26. In the bigger picture, he now sits 143 red lights away from passing No. 99.

*This season, Ovechkin also leads all NHL skaters in pizza deliveries*

Capitals Get Standout Showings From Rookies

With COVID-19 and injuries plaguing the Capitals lineup, Washington has had to turn to its youth to step up — and the kids have not disappointed.

Washington has seen several rookies rise to the occasion, most notably Martin Fehervary and Connor McMichael. Both made their full-time jump to the NHL this past season and have seamlessly transitioned into regulars. Fehervary has been thriving as John Carlson’s defense partner and has taken on the role of a top-pairing, shutdown blueliner with aplomb.

“I don’t even know how old he is, but he plays like he has been playing so many years in the league,” teammate Lars Eller said of No. 42.

Meanwhile, McMichael has been solid on the forward lines, showing his versatility at center and wing. He has improved in the faceoff circle and has made outstanding plays up the ice, and continues to work on finding consistency.

Plus, over the last two years, Washington has seen a number of rookies make their NHL debuts, including seven this season: Hendrix Lapierre, Brett Leason, Aliaksei Protas, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Zach Fucale, Joe Snively and Alex Alexeyev. Each rookie skater — excluding Alexeyev, who just played his first game on Wednesday, has found the scoresheet, and in net, Fucale made franchise history as the first Capitals netminder to record a shutout in his debut. Lucas Johansen appears set to become the eighth Capitals rookie to make his NHL debut this season on Dec. 31 against Detroit.

Beyond that, other pieces, including Beck Malenstyn and Garrett Pilon, have been reliable when called upon to boot.

Kuznetsov On Memorable Revenge Tour For Capitals

For Evgeny Kuznetsov, the first half of 2021 was far from ideal. The 29-year-old saw his game take a bit of a nosedive in 2020-21 as he tested positive for COVID-19 twice and also saw his numbers and overall performance decline. He couldn’t really find consistency and also found himself scratched for disciplinary reasons down the stretch last year. Ultimately, he posted a career-low nine goals and 29 points in 41 games and, as a result, was in the news constantly and the subject of trade rumors in the offseason.

“That s*** bothers me a lot,” Kuznetsov told WHN in an exclusive 1-on-1. “You know, in the summer, I was able to train well, without you know, like, I can breathe well, so I can do all this stuff, so that’s helped me a lot. I didn’t say I had the worst year, you know, in my head because I knew how hard it was for me last year.

“Of course, I was in the news a lot. I was hoping somebody will say something truthful, you know, that was not even close to anything,” Kuznetsov added. “But that’s a hockey life, right? You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. So you got to be ready anyway, especially when you have a couple kids.”

FULL INTERVIEW ON WHN: Kuznetsov Opens Up About Struggles, Comedy And Capitals Comeback

No. 92 hit the ground running when he came back to D.C. in September, in great shape and ready to bounce back and put any speculation or critiques in the rearview. He got off to a great start and has been one of Washington’s best performers, and has already surpassed last year’s totals with 10 goals and 31 points in 29 games. He is not only producing offensively but playing much stronger defensively and even logging time on the penalty kill. His two goals and four points while shorthanded are tied for the league lead.

And, looking back, the Russian said he has no regrets as he proves his worth as an elite center.

“If you tell me if I can come back and change something, I will say no. That’s unbelievable experience, which I believe I can share it to my kids. I can share it later when I’m gonna be older. I’ve seen some s*** in my life, you know? And I’ve been through some tough moments and you know, some good, bad. I believe that a lot of people have to go through some moments in their life so they can learn, they can get better. And I’m just grateful for everything.”

Peter Laviolette Paving Way For Capitals

After Todd Reirden’s two-year tenure following the end of the Barry Trotz era, the Capitals were eager to maintain their winning culture and high standards. They got exactly that when they hired Peter Laviolette to take over as the bench boss starting in 2021.

Laviolette has gotten off to the best start for a Washington coach through 82 games in franchise history with a 51-19-11 (113 points) record, surpassing even Bruce Boudreau’s historic 2007-08 debut. With Kevin McCarthy, Scott Arniel and Blaine Forsythe, he has been able to form strong forward combinations, from the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson trio to the Hagelin-Dowd-Hathaway line, while also building a talented blue line and helping Nick Jensen and company put on a better performance. Not only that, but Washington’s penalty kill over the last two seasons ranks third in the NHL (83.3 percent).

“I think he’s a good coach to play for. You know where you stand with him and you know what to expect and I think within this organization, it’s easy to be successful here because you have so many people that want you to succeed,” Nic Dowd said of Laviolette’s leadership.

The 57-year-old bench boss most recently passed Dick Irvin with 591 wins for the 10th-most by a head coach in NHL history. And, in the Capitals’ season-opening win over New York, Laviolette passed John Tortorella to become the NHL’s winningest American-born coach of all time.

More Tidbits, Takeaways And Top Stories

  • Nicklas Backstrom is back in the mix and has two assists in two games since returning from a lengthy stint on the LTIR. He was Washington’s leading scorer for 2020-21 with 53 points in 55 games.
  • Michal Kempny has returned to the NHL following a lengthy time in Hershey while rehabilitating from three injuries (one from an ice shoveler collision) and two major surgeries on his left leg. Here’s more on No. 6, his time with the Bears and his journey back to full strength.
  • After not hitting it off the first time they met on the ice out West, Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd have formed the ultimate friendship. That bromance has led to great efforts both on and off the ice as No. 26 and No. 21 make a difference in the D.C. community, experience fatherhood together and work in tandem on one of the NHL’s top checking lines. More on their dynamic and journey so far.
  • Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov are continuing to battle for control of the Capitals crease.
  • Oh, and if Ovechkin does end up catching Gretzky, it won’t be because of a “massive edge” in OT winners – in fact, there should be no buts about it. Here’s why.
  • Also, the Capitals welcomed Biscuit — the newest team dog — to the pack and also did a lot for doggos overall with their canine calendar and more. Take a look back at a behind-the-scenes look at the photoshoot.
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