Evgeny Kuznetsov thought he could create an opportunity for an odd-man rush out of the defensive zone, so he tried something risky, a no-look backhand pass from beyond the goal line in the defensive zone. Rather than setting up the three-on-two for his team, the pass resulted in an egregious turnover, the puck picked off by P.A. Parenteau, who shot it past goaltender Braden Holtby for New Jersey’s lone goal of the game.
Parenteau goal pic.twitter.com/69srMS5HY4
— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 30, 2016
The Devils went on to win in the shootout Thursday night, and Coach Barry Trotz called the pass “careless” and “unnecessary” after the game. Kuznetsov tried to justify his intentions on Friday.
“I did mistake; I have to pay for that,” Kuznetsov said. “Sometimes, you know, you can make like 10 mistakes, but then you do one and it’s in the back of your net. What you have to do is just focus on the next game and already forget that. You know, everyone makes mistakes. The game like that now, so you have to do right things and maybe never do same thing, but that’s not me. I’m always going to play like that. If I was to make that play, they go on three-on-two, so I know it’s my mistake, but to try and make the play, you have to, you know? I didn’t.”
Kuznetsov was then asked if a lesson in that turnover is to just make a simpler, low-risk play when trying to exit the defensive zone.
“That’s not me,” Kuznetsov said. “You know, like I know that’s my mistake, but I saw the kind of guys that pressure us, and if I make that play, [we] will go three-on-two. Like I said, I didn’t.”
Said Trotz: “There was no one there [the pass] was going to connect to but them.”
Kuznetsov’s strength is his creativity, that asset contributing to his 77-point season last year, when he led the team in scoring. But as Kuznetsov has struggled to regain his offensive touch with three goals and 15 assists in 34 games this season, his desire to make the flashy, highlight-reel play has led to some questionable decision-making in the defensive zone recently.
In Philadelphia earlier this month, Kuznetsov tried a bounce pass off the boards when attempting to exit the defensive zone, and it went straight to Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who then scored the game-tying goal. Washington lost that game in a shootout, too, and though Trotz said after that game that the puck had taken an unfortunate bounce, Kuznetsov had other options available for a simpler zone exit.
“With everything that we do, we don’t want to limit creativity,” Trotz said. “But we want to manage and control that creativity to a point where everybody is on the same page. Because one guy has got this creative idea of how he’s going to do things and everybody else doesn’t know about this creative idea, then a lot of times it doesn’t work. So, you need to be a little bit on the same page.
“I love the creativity, and I love the stuff that some of the high-skill guys can do, there’s no question. They’re the guys that can really make it happen. But just make the right plays at the right time.”
Trotz hasn’t limited Kuznetsov’s ice time after either play, and since he skated with Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams on Friday afternoon, it seems unlikely he’ll be a scratch for Saturday’s game in New Jersey.
“He’s an important player for us,” Trotz said. “If I sat out everybody who turns the puck over or has a bad shift in a game, I would run out of players. The shifts are going to be momentum sometimes. Sometimes, when a player makes continual mistakes, then you have a little sit down . . . but that was a one-time thing, so you just say, ‘Hey, let’s clean that up and go get it back.’”