Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov leaves Game 2 after McNabb’s hard hit


As Game 2’s first intermission begins, the good news is that the Washington Capitals tied the contest 1-1 after Vegas got off to another quick start. The bad news is that crucial center Evgeny Kuznetsov suffered an upper-body injury and is unlikely to be back tonight.

Kuznetsov was clearly shaken up after a hard hit by Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland. There are a few possibilities for what might be bothering the Russian playmaker, and maybe it comes down to more than one issue. He could be dealing with shoulder pain, wrist pain, or something arm-related.

Whatever the ailments might be, Kuznetsov was clearly in pain and left the ice for the remainder of the first period. It’s not too surprising he didn’t return, as the hit happened with just a bit more than five minutes left in the opening frame. Kuznetsov may return at some point during Game 2, yet he did not come out for the beginning of the second period.

The Capitals consider him “questionable” to return. They’re merely labeling it an upper-body injury.

With Kuznetsov out, Trotz first went with a familiar combination: Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin (rounded out by Tom Wilson).

While Backstrom is experienced sliding into the top center role alongside Ovechkin, and Lars Eller‘s dealt with being bumped up the lineup when Backstrom was out, it’s difficult to overstate how important Kuznetsov’s been to Washington. Most obviously, he came into Game 2 with an impressive 25 points in 20 playoff games.

“He’s been our best player in the playoffs,” Nicklas Backstrom said after Game 2. “It’s hard to replace him.”

Kuznetsov’s strong run included an 11-game point streak that was cut short by this injury. The best news is that Washington gets a little extra time between Game 2 tonight and Game 3 on Saturday, so maybe that will help him return.

Considering that Backstrom’s dealing with hand issues that sidelined him during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Caps could fight through this series with their two best centers at less than full-strength. That’s playoff hockey though, right?

There were other physical moments during the first 20 minutes, including this hard, clean hit by Tom Wilson on Ryan Carpenter:

Update: The Capitals responded splendidly to Kuznetsov’s absence, ultimately beating the Golden Knights 3-2 to tie the series 1-1. Washington didn’t provide many details about Kuznetsov after Game 2, although Barry Trotz said that he believed it was a “high hit.”

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

Andrei Kuzmenko
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.