Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov approached his coach with an unusual request recently: Would it be okay if he received some shots as a goaltender one day after practice?
Barry Trotz’s reaction: “Why?”
Trotz ultimately gave Kuznetsov his blessing and told the Capitals’ second-leading goal scorer, “Do not get hurt.” That set the stage for an amusing wager between Kuznetsov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov: Would Kuznetsov save more pucks than Orlov scored? Kuznetsov borrowed some old gear from Washington’s actual goalies, put on a mask and then faced the firing squad after practice.
Not only did he survive, he prevailed, though Kuznetsov declined to reveal what it is that he actually won in this bet, saying only “it will taste better for sure.”
“You know, we have a challenge and we play not for fun,” Kuznetsov said. “He lose twice, so he got to get better. … I picked the not the toughest opponent, you know?”
In sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals have been keeping it loose in practice this week. They have four days in between their victory over Carolina on Tuesday and the next game Sunday against St. Louis. As a way to keep his team fresh, Trotz has had competitive intrasquad scrimmages over the past two days. The losing team has to skate after, so players have been motivated to play hard and win.
“Obviously, we don’t do well with a lot of days off, so we’re trying different things to keep us engaged,” Trotz said. “I think the players like it. It keeps the competition, it keeps you a little bit sharp. … We’re trying different things because we know this month is going to be difficult. It’s very spotty. You don’t get into a lot of rhythm, and then you do and then you have another break. You come out of the break, and then you’re right back at it. We’re just trying a couple things that hopefully will keep us sharp and better coming out of these breaks.”
Said Kuznetsov: “Sometimes, yeah, you have to just relax. Like, those 20 minutes gave us lots of positive emotion for sure.”
Kuznetsov acknowledged that Orlov didn’t shoot with the full strength of his slap shot, though he couldn’t say the same about goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who traded in his bulky pads and thick goalie stick to join in on the exercise.
“I wasn’t expecting that first time top cheese,” Kuznetsov said.
“I wanted to get out there and shoot a little bit; I haven’t done it in a while,” Grubauer said. “And it was a little bit time for payback on Kuzy, always ripping shots high. … My accuracy is not really that good. I can shoot hard, but I don’t know where it’s going. I think he’s a better goalie.”
Grubauer suggested to Kuznetsov that he not go down into a full butterfly because that can be hard on the knees. But Grubauer chuckled that Kuznetsov’s shoulder might be sore with how often he made glove saves, flamboyant ones at that. Kuznetsov explained that was because goaltenders typically deny him in that fashion, so he just wanted to experience it for himself.
“Well, Kuzy is exceptionally smart and obviously he’s trying to develop the instinct of a goalie, so that he can be a better player,” Trotz said seriously. “We talk about evolving his game, and this is his way of evolving.”
And then the coach cracked a smile and chuckled, the jig up. “No, I don’t know,” he said. “You let them have fun.”
It seems everyone is doing just that.
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