WASHINGTON — When it comes to the shootout, Evgeny Kuznetsov has become something of a magician for the Washington Capitals, always hiding another trick or unique move up his sleeve as he goes 1-on-1 in the skills competition that draws the difference between a win and a loss.
Over the last year, the 30-year-old has fine-tuned his technique, still keeping a lot of it under wraps. His latest move resembles a combination of a disconnected Xbox controller and quick wrists. He creeps slowly toward the net — so slowly it’s surprising he doesn’t stop — and the patience and quick dekes ultimately lead to him sniping a quick shot past the goaltender.
It’s a move that’s made highlight reels and has also caused some controversy, with critics citing that it’s unfair and almost impossible for goalies to read while others believing it’s too long and doesn’t fall exactly in line with the “maintaining a forward motion.” However, the bottom line for Washington: it works.
“It mean, it works. He knows what he’s doing,” head coach Peter Laviolette laughed. “You have to have some confidence to go in that slow and pull that off. It was a really nice play, a really nice goal. He waited the goalie out.”
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Kuznetsov has learned to tune out the critics, especially over the last few years when he became the subject of trade rumors and mixed reviews amid a lackluster 2020-21 and some not liking his bird celebrations, jokes or fun-loving demeanor that is the opposite of serious and qualifies him as a “jerk” in Don Cherry’s book.
“I’m just enjoying it. I’m happy to be here. And if I’m in a happy place, I’m always gonna smile and enjoy it you know? It’s easy to see when I’m not smiling, that means I’m not in a happy place and I’m not comfortable,” Kuznetsov explained. “When I’m comfortable and I’m enjoying it, it’s just me. I’m not trying to be somebody else, I’m just like that. You know, if somebody doesn’t like that, they can talk, but I’m sorry. That’s who I am and I’m not going to change.”
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Looking at his shootout resume, the Russian grinned, citing the panic he felt while pulling off the “stick twirl” move before a shootout goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs (he said that was accidental, and he actually hated that viral play) but also saying that he chose to change things up after missing out on quite a few attempts. He also aimed to inject as much of his humor and personality into his attempts as possible.
“It’s something that I look at, right? A few shootouts, they didn’t go well, I hit, like, three posts in a row,” Kuznetsov said. “I was like maybe have to adjust the angle. To do all that stuff [with the new move], I was lucky I got to hide that shot. You know, it’s little things that I tried, and it works.”
Cocky stick twirl mid shootout by Kuznetsov pic.twitter.com/sDBCDp52an
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While that’s been his go-to for a bit, and has made some Capitals fans think back to the days of Matt Hendricks’ go-to move that always froze goalies and made him a prominent shootout specialsist, he hinted that he’ll have more up his sleeve.
“We’ll see,” he previewed. “Maybe I create something new this year.”
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Kuznetsov has been able to score in the one shootout Washington has been to this year, but he is still waiting on his first goa of the yearl. He has six assists so far to open 2022-23.