Wednesday Night Hockey: Kuznetsov’s season back on track after suspension

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The start of the 2019-20 season couldn’t have been an easy one for Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 27-year-old was suspended for the first three games of the year for a positive cocaine test. When the suspension was announced, he admitted he was crushed, but he also mentioned that he had “taken many steps in the right direction”.

After missing games against St. Louis, the Islanders and Carolina, he came back and picked up six points in his first five contests. He went a little cold after that sizzling start, as he saw his ice time and production dip (he accumulated three points in seven games, but two of those points came in the same game).

NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire shared a story about Kuznetsov during his daily hit on Montreal radio, yesterday. Here’s what McGuire had to say about the situation between Todd Reirden and his player:

“Here’s the little secret behind (Kuznetsov’s success),” McGuire said during the interview. “I had a long visit with Todd Reirden (on Monday) and I asked: ‘How did you get Kuznetsov back on the track?’ Reirden answered: ‘There were five games in a row where I played him for 15 minutes or less and he wasn’t pleased. I was trying to get his attention. So, he came to me in Calgary and said ‘I’d like to have a meeting with you.’

“So (Kuznetsov and Reirden) sat down after a practice in Calgary and Todd said: ‘You want more ice? You have to prove to me that you’ve earned it.’ And so from then on, this guy has just run wild. He’s run wild over the opponents and he’s run wild in practice. Again, the coach got the player’s attention and the player actually went in and talked to the coach. There was a meeting of the minds and it worked!” 

In the game before they left for Calgary (they were in Chicago), the Caps forward had played just 13:46. In the game before that (at home against the Rangers), he played 13:03. Since those two games, the Russian center has played between 16:04 and 23:28. He’s regularly hovering around 18 and 19 minutes every night.

The result?

[COVERAGE OF FLYERS-CAPS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

He’s scoring more goals than he’s ever scored before. We’ve known him as a point producer, but his career-high in goals is currently 27. Now that he’s found the back of the net eight times in 16 games, he’s on pace to score 41 times this season. Can he keep that up? We’ll find out. But it’s nice to see him battle back from the personal issues that plagued him over the last little while.

The Capitals saw their six-game winning streak come to an end on Monday night, as they dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Arizona Coyotes, but they fought back after being down 3-0. Kuznetsov scored two of his team’s three goals in that one.

“You can tell when he’s feeling it and he’s going to be able to control the game, which he did most of the night,” teammate T.J. Oshie said of Kuznetsov’s performance in the game, per NHL.com.

This will be the start of a busy stretch for Washington. After traveling to Philly to take on the Flyers tonight, they’ll have a home game against the Canadiens on Friday, a road game against Boston on Saturday and another home game against the Ducks on Monday. Three games in four nights and four games in six nights are never easy.

The Caps are currently the top team in the East and in the NHL, with 30 points.

MORE: Why Flyers fans have reason for optimism

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Kenny Albert, Mike Milbury and Brian Boucher will call Capitals-Flyers from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.