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After a dry spell, Caps' Daniel Winnik rediscovers his scoring touch

After a dry spell, Caps' Daniel Winnik rediscovers his scoring touch

Although Daniel Winnik's job description is that of a checking line winger and penalty kill specialist, the veteran has the ability to get hot offensively, too.

Case in point: the Capitals’ last three games.

Winnik has two goals, including a clutch tally in Detroit, and a primary assist during that span. Only Nicklas Backstrom has been more productive.

The reason for the sudden uptick? He’s gotten back to what was working for him earlier this season. 

“I looked back at my goals and they had all been around the net,” Winnik said after Tuesday’s practice. “So I just put more of a focus lately on getting to the net.”

“Sometimes,” he continued, “I have the habit of being the corner guy, digging out pucks and passing to the point. Sometimes I’m not getting to the net. So when I don’t have the puck and someone else does, I’m just focusing on getting to that blue paint, and hopefully pucks get there.”

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Which is exactly how he helped the Caps rally to salvage a standings point against the Red Wings on Saturday afternoon. With five minutes remaining at The Joe and the visitors trailing by a goal, T.J. Oshie carried the puck into the offensive zone as Winnik made a beeline to the net. Petr Mrazek stopped Oshie’s shot, but Winnik outmuscled defenseman Brendan Smith and used his stick to bat the rebound out of midair and into the net to knot the game 2-2.

The goal was Winnik’s eighth of the season but his first away from Verizon Center. It was also his second strike in two games. Against the Ducks, Winnik scored his second shorthanded goal of the season thanks to a great individual effort that began in the Caps’ end. That also goal ended a 17-game drought for Winnik.

Earlier in Anaheim game, Winnik also had a highlight reel setup pass that left Tom Wilson with a layup.  

Coach Barry Trotz said he’s not surprised by Winnik’s recent offensive outburst. Trotz said he implored him to think more about producing more points.

“Winnie has a pretty good skill set,” Trotz said. “We’re using him in a defensive role. But the one thing that I told him…I trust you defensively and I think you can be a real reliable player in this year. But there’s more, you can bring some offense. He can keep people off the board and then get those important goals at important times because a lot of time he’s out against offensive lines that don’t think [defense first].”  

Although Winnik’s game is on the rise as the season enters the stretch run, this hasn’t been any smoothest campaign for the 10th-year veteran. From opening night until late December, he found himself scratched 10 times as Trotz searched for the right line combinations.

Winnik said he got through that difficult phase with the help of a sports psychologist that he began seeing over the summer and has continued to consult in-season.

“It was hard,” Winnik said of being scratched. “To be honest, if it weren’t for me seeing a sports psychiatrist this summer in San Francisco, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it so well. I give Dr. [Michael] Tompkins a lot of credit for how I handled the situation.”

With 24 games remaining and his role now well-defined, it’s possible Winnik will top his previous career-high of 11 goals in addition to being the Caps' second most important forward on the penalty kill. But as a veteran on a team with championship aspirations, he says he's focused on making sure the group is playing the right way down the stretch.

“I hope we’re not just looking at it as, ‘Hey let’s just get through these last 24 games,’” said Winnik, who turns 32 next month. “That’s what it was like last year when I got here [via trade]. There was such a big cushion that there weren’t many meaningful games. This year, it’s a lot tighter and more teams are in the playoff race, so we’re going have harder games to play in. Hopefully that—and learning from last year—will helps us.”

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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USA TODAY Sports

The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

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When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

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“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

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