Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
JPat: Was Canucks’ Kuzmenko better than his pointless road trip suggests?
1 month ago
Zeroes across the board. No goals. No assists. So clearly, no points. No penalty minutes. No faceoffs. No hits. No takeaways. That is the surface-level statistical summary of Andrei Kuzmenko’s road trip with the Vancouver Canucks. It started with a healthy scratch in St. Louis and really didn’t get a whole lot more impactful from there.
Oh, there were two blocked shots along the way and a pair of giveaways, as well. So his presence on the road trip can be verified. But despite repeated messages from the coaching staff in the month leading up to Christmas and again with the seat in the St. Louis press box, Kuzmenko continues to struggle to find his way under Rick Tocchet.
Now, anyone that watched Monday’s 4-3 shootout loss in Columbus saw Kuzmenko draw a penalty that led to the Canucks’ third goal of the game. They also saw the Russian winger get 45 seconds of ice in overtime and produce the Canucks only shot of the extra session. And he wasn’t done there. Kuzmenko, although denied, was the first Vancouver shooter over the boards as the game advanced to the skills competition.
And his underlying numbers for the afternoon – at the end of an arduous road trip – painted a more impactful picture for Kuzmenko. The Canucks controlled 54.2% of all shot attempts at 5-on-5 with Kuzmenko on the ice, held a slight edge in scoring chances produced and the expected goals were a saw off. While many of his teammates faded playing their seventh game in 12 days, Kuzmenko matched the 15:39 he played on Long Island on Wednesday for his highest ice time of the road trip. Over his six games on the road, Kuzmenko averaged 13:47 and produced 13 shots on goal (six came in a wide-open game in New Jersey). However, he was also kept on the bench late in the third period of tight games in Pittsburgh and Buffalo as Rick Tocchet shortened his bench.
Against the Blue Jackets, Kuzmenko feasted when matched up against rookie Adam Fantilli along with Kent Johnson and Emil Bemstrom, but struggled in his minutes against Kirill Marchenko with Sean Kuraly and Jack Roslovic.
And that’s a huge part of the issue right now. The line of Kuzmenko with Pius Suter and Ilya Mikheyev went the entire road trip without producing a point as a unit – and usually against lower competition on the other side. Suter picked up a point on a Nils Höglander goal against the Rangers, and Mikheyev set up Filip Hronek the next night to open the scoring against the Islanders. But no member of that trio scored a goal on the road trip (Mikheyev hit a post in Buffalo) and Kuzmenko has not scored a goal in eight games now since Christmas. Beyond that, he has gone an astounding 22 games without picking up an assist. No forward in the NHL that has averaged 14+ minutes since November 15th has played more games and failed to set up a single goal. And for much of that stretch, Kuzmenko was paired with Elias Pettersson both at even strength and on the power play.
So it’s safe to say this isn’t a case of a guy that needs a bounce to open the flood gates. He looks like a player very much in his own head about what’s expected of him and how he is supposed to play.
For the road trip, the Suter line more than held its own in terms of defensive responsibility, controlling 54.7% of 5-on-5 shot attempts and 52.7% of scoring chances. But it’s impossible to give that threesome its flowers for incredible two-way hockey because it did absolutely nothing at one end of the ice. Over its six games together on the road, the Suter line was outscored by a 2-0 margin. In the final three games of the trip – in Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Columbus – all were tight one-goal games at some point in the third period. Any offensive contribution from Suter, Mikheyev or Kuzmenko would have made the Canucks life considerably easier rather than having to grind to overtime in two of the three games and a shootout on Monday.
Kuzmenko remains an enigma looking nothing like the player that made scoring 39 goals in his first NHL season seem so effortless. And as the Canucks continue to produce results as a team, they’re doing it in spite of absolutely no offensive contributions from a player now paid to produce. While this is a piece about Kuzmenko’s ongoing struggles, it must be noted that Mikheyev has now gone 12 games without scoring and has just one goal in his last 16.
It’s been more than two months since Kuzmenko last scored a road goal (November 2nd as part of the team’s 10-1 romp in San Jose) or even picked up a point away from home (an assist in Montreal on November 12th). At last check, there are plenty of road games remaining on the schedule, and likely, half of the playoff games will be played away from as well.
The effort, at times, on the road trip seemed like a step in the right direction for Kuzmenko. But has the bar fallen so low, so quickly that he should be praised for trying hard?
The Canucks had an amazing run through the east and are having an incredible season. But it’s being driven by one of the hottest lines in hockey and supported by the team’s most consistent line for the past six weeks. Just imagine if this team was truly three scoring lines deep. Just imagine if Andrei Kuzmenko could find any semblance of the scoring touch that dazzled the NHL and took the city by storm one year ago.
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