“I played good hockey but I have to play better,” Kuznetsov said, per CSN Washington. “I’ll try to focus on my game and what the coach tells me. If everybody does the right job probably something good will happen.”
Next season, the Caps could have a first line comprised of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, and a second line featuring Kuznetsov between Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams.
“[Kuznetsov] filled a hole at second-line center that we’ve been trying to fill for a number of years,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said in May.
With a defense headlined by John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, and with Braden Holtby in goal, you’ll excuse Caps fans for finding it difficult to contain their excitement.
Nicklas Backstrom is recovering from the arthroscopic hip surgery he underwent in May and while he should be able to skate during training camp, his overall timetable remains uncertain.
“Will he be ready for the start of the season? That part is up in the air right now,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said when asked about Backstrom’s availability on DC101’s Elliot In The Morning.
One of the concerns surrounding his recovery is his conditioning as Trotz noted that the 27-year-old forward will be limited in that regard over the summer, per CSN Washington. He consequently might be significantly behind his teammates in that regard come October even if he is otherwise healthy enough to play.
The Capitals initially projected that Backstrom would be “completely healthy prior to the start of the 2015-16 regular season.” However, Trotz’s update meshes with a report last month from Swedish news outlet Gefle Dagblad, which claimed that Backstrom could be sidelined for up to five months. The high end of that timetable would translate to a late October return.
He finished 2014-15 with 18 goals and 78 points in 82 contests. He hasn’t missed a game since the 2011-2012 campaign.
For all the star power that the NHL boasts outside of Pittsburgh and Washington, it’s difficult to resist the siren call of a spike in the Sidney Crosby – Alex Ovechkin rivalry. It’s perfectly plausible that we’ll never get a sequel to that memorable 2009 playoff series.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s be honest: it’s been a while since the Penguins and Capitals were in a better position collectively to pull this off.
It’s still strange to picture Phil Kessel in a Penguins uniform, firing home well-placed passes from Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin … but would it be that outrageous to imagine Kessel chasing Ovechkin in the Maurice Richard race now? As excited as Crosby and Malkin seem to be about the acquisition, Kessel and hockey fans should be especially thrilled.
Here’s the wrinkle that makes things even more fun: while the Penguins added the biggest name, Washington’s moves likely provide the Capitals with a deeper array of weapons.
Beyond the obvious in Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps now combine seasoned newcomers (Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie) with promising youngsters (Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky) to form a frightening forward group.
Hockey’s a team sport, and Crosby – Ovechkin can only be so riveting on their own … so how about Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Kris Letang vs. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Williams, Oshie and Washington’s bevvy of pricey blueliners? Yeah, that sounds like appointment viewing.
While they’re still young
As strange as it sounds, the window might be closing on this rivalry, at least as a true showcase of two players who are seriously considered two of the best alive.*
Ovechkin will turn 30 on Sept. 17, and his hair is already looking a little grayer these days. Crosby turns 28 in August and people are already wondering if he’s startingto slow down.
No, the Penguins and Capitals haven’t totally mortgaged their futures this summer, yet the complexion of each franchise changed in some resounding ways in the past few days. You never know what might happen – we’ve been fooled before – but it’s tough not to picture an epic 2016 playoff series between these two players (and teams).
If nothing else, it’s fun to think about.
* – One could quibble about where the two rank among the elite, but they’re at least up there, right?