Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The Tape: Analyzing the “little things” Canucks’ Andrei Kuzmenko has done right the past two games
By Tyson Cole1 month ago
Andrei Kuzmenko deserves some respect for how he’s played over the last two games. While he’s definitely still not up to the high standard he set for himself last year, when the going is good, we should give him his flowers.
Okay, Grady, ask and you shall receive.
I watched every shift of Kuzmenko’s over the last two games, and there are certainly improvements to his all-around game. Now let me show you.
Kuzmenko’s Game vs Toronto
If one were to have just scoreboard-watched this game, it may seem as though Kuzmenko had another bad night two games ago against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kuzmenko finished with zeroes across the board with 13 shifts for 10:42 minutes of time on ice (TOI): no goals, no points, no shots, no hits, and no blocks, straight zeroes.
But he was much more impactful than the stat sheet suggests.
Here is where we see the first sign of defensive play improvement for Kuzmenko.
Right away, you can see him pressure the defender for a weak shot towards the net, which does not land. A few seconds later, when the play is on his off side, you can see Kuzmenko keep turning his head to make sure he has tabs on his defender. He checks on his man five times in three seconds. Kuzmenko would only see three shifts for the rest of the period.
Small thing to point out here as this would go unnoticed — on Kuzmenko’s first shift of the second period, he comes flying off the bench and gets in on the forecheck to pressure Jake McCabe. When Kuzmenko fails to receive the puck along the boards, watch how hard he skates to pressure the defender as if he wanted the defender to know he is coming and coming fast.
Another small defensive point out here. Kuzmenko catches himself puck-watching as he drifts too far into the play. He turns to double-check his defender and glides back to get into a better position to block a potential pass to the high slot.
On his final shift of the second period, Kuzmenko was the first forward back to help defend on a rush and was the recipient of the ensuing breakout pass. This breakout pass led to their line generating another lengthy offensive zone shift that lasted 43 seconds.
All the improvements to his defensive game throughout the first two periods must have sparked something in his offensive game.
Kuzmenko retrieves the puck in the neutral zone and dances around the blue line into the offensive zone. Morgan Rielly has no choice but to leave Pius Suter to pressure him. Kuzmenko takes the puck on his backhand and fires it over to a wide-open Suter in the right slot, who sends it wide.
On the very same shift, Quinn Hughes enters the zone with Morgan Rielly pressuring him. Kuzmenko is able to sneak behind Rielly and has an open lane for a scoring chance. Tocchet may not have liked how he went about it as he nearly lost the puck on an attempted between-the-legs deke, but he is able to maintain possession with another deke to go behind the net — which draws a T.J. Brodie tripping penalty.
And it’s back on the forecheck for Kuzmenko. He knocks down a Mark Giordano clearing attempt in the high slot, retains possession and fires it over to the half wall for a Quinn Hughes shot attempt.
Kuzmenko would not see another shift in the last half of the final frame. All in all, he generated the highest high-danger scoring chances for without allowing a high-danger scoring chance against of any Canuck since the December 28th game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Kuzmenko’s Game vs Chicago
Against Chicago was when we saw the offensive game explode for Kuzmenko. And he wasted no time doing so.
Picking up a Noah Juulsen pass off the back boards, Kuzmenko takes it behind the net and with Ryan Donato draping all over him, he does a spin-o-rama backhand pass tape to tape to Pius Suter, who buries it five-hole for his 100th NHL point.
Now this right here is my favourite shift of his throughout both of these games. Watch the effort here from the Russian forward.
After an already 22-second offensive zone shift for the Canucks, the Blackhawks look to have finally cleared the zone. That is until Kuzmenko comes off the bench to hold the puck in. He passes it over to the side for Hughes to retrieve and Hughes immediately tries to find the hot Kuzmenko for a tip-in, which is blocked.
He then picks up the puck behind the net but falls over as he’s dancing around. Mikheyev comes in to help his linemate, who then finds Quinn Hughes as he sneaks down the left-hand side. Kuzmenko has positioned himself in front of the net and watch how he maneuvers his body into a position to receive a tip-in pass while also moving the defender out of the way for a clear lane for his captain, who makes no mistake burying his 12th goal of the season.
In a shift later that period, Kuzmenko lifts the stick of the defender in the corner, regaining possession of the puck for his team. He then uses his impressive edge work to evade defenders and gets a shot off at the face-off dot.
You can tell his confidence is back because, after a passing sequence with Mikheyev where they’re constantly moving around the ice, he attempts a between-the-legs shot, going just wide.
The second period was a little quieter for Kuzmenko, but I did notice one thing that this line did twice in this period. Watch the play after a faceoff win in the offensive zone.
The Canucks go D-to-D while they send Kuzmenko to generate speed behind the net and receive a pass on the other side of the zone. Notice how these two plays look exactly the same play. The Canucks go D-to-D again, except this time it’s on the other side, and Mikheyev is the one generating speed behind the net. It will be interesting to watch and see if this play can formulate a high-danger chance in any upcoming games.
Now, I will always point out the good with the bad and watching every shift from his last two games, this had to be Kuzmenko’s biggest mishap.
Nick Foligno carries the puck from behind the net and around the boards, where Kuzmenko does a great job to block the passing lane. But now, with Kuzmenko’s eyes off the defender, he’s able to sneak by him and gets a quality shot all alone in the slot — thankfully, saved by Thatcher Demko.
Keeping a constant check on where his defender was at all times in the Toronto game, Kuzmenko let this one slip, leading to a high-danger scoring chance. But one mistake in two games is a massive improvement.
Here notice how he goes back to the double check of his defender. When Vlasic receives the pass, he’s on him like glue and forces the defender to just dump it down low.
On the ensuing dump in, Nikita Zadorov then sends the puck up the boards where Kuzmenko uses his speed to retrieve the puck on the rush. Cutting into the middle of the ice, he finds a surging J.T. Miller who fires it on net.
After not seeing the ice for the final 10 minutes of the previous game, Kuzmenko got rewarded with two shifts in that time frame against the Blackhawks. Including, the final shift of the frame to protect the two-goal lead — a real bode of confidence in the coach to trust him in a crucial game situation.
Here’s the shift.
Instead of doing what any typical sniper would want to do and shoot for the empty net, Kuzmenko plays it smart and dumps it off the glass and out. A play like this must earn him some brownie points in Tocchet’s books. The Blackhawks would not maintain possession in the offensive zone after Kuzmenko’s clearout.
Over these two games, Kuzmenko finished with two assists, a +2 rating in 10:31 of 5-on-5 ice time. While he was on the ice, his team outshot the opposition 13-11, generating 15 scoring chances while allowing only six, 10 of which were high-danger, compared to the only three high-danger chances allowed.
This short two-game sample size doesn’t excuse his poor play from the other 39 games he’s played this season. However, this is a step in the right direction. The confidence he has regained after this stellar performance will hopefully translate to a strong end of the season for Andrei Kuzmenko.
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