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Brett Connolly's goal? Score at least 20 of them for the Caps this season

Brett Connolly's goal? Score at least 20 of them for the Caps this season

When Brett Connolly joined the Capitals last year, he arrived on a one-year deal and without a guaranteed spot in the lineup.

When this year’s training camp gets underway, however, he’ll find himself in a much more settled situation: he’s now got the security of a two-year extension and a legitimate shot at earning a bigger role as the Caps look to replace a couple of top-six forwards.  

“It’s the first time I’ve been able to come to training camp and be comfortable,” said Connolly, whose previous three contracts were all one-year deals. “Now I can just go out and play.”

He added: “There’s going to be some openings in the lineup. It’s an exciting time for a lot of guys on this team.”

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Connolly spoke to CSN on Friday morning following another well-attended informal practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. In fact, 11 of the 12 forwards and six of the seven defensemen expected to make the opening night roster took part in the hour-long session. Both goalies were here, as well.

Connolly said he’s eager to build on a 2016-17 campaign that was interesting to say the least. The 25-year-old winger started out as a healthy scratch, then ended up a spectator as the Caps bowed out to the Penguins in the second round. In between, however, he netted a career-high 15 goals in 66 games while seeing an average of just 10:41—the least amount of ice time among the Caps’ full-time forwards.  

“I had a good year last year,” he said. “I feel really good about my game. I just need to take that into this year, take advantage of this great opportunity that I’m going to be given and run with it. It’s another opportunity for me to gain some traction in this league and help this team win.”

Connolly’s personal goal for the upcoming season? Score at least 20 times.

“For me, being an offensive guy, 20 goals is kind of the benchmark,” he said. “I know last year my ice time was limited [but] we had a really good team and a lot of [depth] in the lineup. I had to be a little patient there and just do my part, do my role. Last year was all about winning [the Cup] and obviously everybody knows we didn’t get that done. But this year will be a little different. Twenty goals is definitely doable for me.”

Training camp starts next Friday with the grueling conditioning test that tripped up Connolly a year ago. This summer he tweaked his training to avoid a repeat of that—and to help him evolve with a game that seemingly gets faster every year.

“I did a little more conditioning, a little more speed,” Connolly said of his summer routine. “The game is changing so much. …I’m in good shape right now and I’m ready to go.”

And he’ll need to be. Indeed, with Justin Williams in Carolina and Marcus Johansson in New Jersey, there will be no shortage of forwards jockeying for jobs and/or promotions.

“Everybody knows that this training camp is going to be different than years past,” Connolly said. “In years past, the team was [already] picked. There were so many good players and good veteran guys who had their spots secured, it was hard for some guys in this organization who were just waiting for their chance. I’ve been there. The last couple of years were not easy for those guys. But this year there’s a handful of guys that are coming in and they’re chomping at the bit and ready to go.”

“Guys are going to be battling and competing for spots,” he continued. “Guys are going to be pushing the guys that were here last year.”

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Nicklas Backstrom is trying really hard not to get frustrated with lack of goals

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Nicklas Backstrom is trying really hard not to get frustrated with lack of goals

Nicklas Backstrom has made a career out of setting up other players, but what many forget is that he is a pretty darn good scorer in his own right. Just not these days.

Backstrom had three goals in the first six games of the season, but since then he has been held scoreless. His last goal game on Oct. 14 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

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Offense, in general, has been hard to come by for the veteran center who also underwent a career-long seven-game pointless streak.

While Backstrom has managed to get back on the score sheet with three assists in his last five games, he still can’t seem to get a goal.

“Obviously you want to score,” Backstrom said. “That's a no brainer, but at the same time you've just got to stick with it. I mean, at least I created chances tonight.”

While the goals may not be there, however, the chances are. For Barry Trotz, that’s an encouraging sign.

“Backy was on the bench, I gave him a little tap I said you know the hockey gods will even that out,” Trotz said. “You probably could have had three tonight and he'll probably get one of those leaky lizards go through the legs or through the arms and one from a bad angle. They'll even it out for him.”

MORE CAPITALS: OVECHKIN GETS STITCHES AFTER GETTING HIT BY PUCK, BUT REMAINS INDESTRUCTIBLE

With Backstrom taking on a more defensive shutdown role this season, his offensive numbers have taken a hit. The Capitals, however, do not have the same scoring depth as in recent years and need Backstrom, still arguably their best center, to produce offensively in order to be successful. He is just too good of a player to not produce.

But given his recent play, Trotz is not all that concerned and believes the goals are coming. Backstrom seems to agree.

“The sun goes up the next day anyway even if I don't score,” he said, “So you've just got to stick with it, work hard and hopefully you'll get rewarded.”

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Alex Ovechkin gets stitches to the lip after getting hit by puck, but he remains indestructible

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Alex Ovechkin gets stitches to the lip after getting hit by puck, but he remains indestructible

It's always scary when you see a player get hit in the head with a puck. It's even scarier when you're a fan of the Caps and that player is Alex Ovechkin.

But there's is one thing you should always remember before you worry about the Great 8: He is not built like a normal human being.

Ovechkin was struck in the face by a puck in the second period of Saturday's game against the Minnesota Wild. It was a scary moment made scarier by the pool of blood he left behind on the ice as he made his way to the locker room.

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"Anybody who takes a puck to the face, you hope that they're not hurt badly," Barry Trotz said after the game. "Anytime you get hit to the face there's usually pretty good leakage. I saw, I knew he got hit in the face and in the mouth area and there was pretty good leakage around our bench and he went off and we were just hoping that it's not too serious."

Remarkably, it wasn't serious. Ovechkin missed the remainder of the second period, but returned for the third. After the game, there were a few stitches in his lip, but otherwise there appeared to be no serious damage.

Ovechkin said that after he had been hit he "Just tried to feel my tooth and it was fine. Just moving a little bit, but it's fine. It's hockey."

The fact that no serious damage was done turned what was a scary moment into one both players and coach could laugh at afterward.

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"He's a big strong man and he's got a few zippers so he's a lot better looking now that they fixed him up and all that," Trotz said. "It's when you get stitched up, that's the great thing about medicine, they can make you look great."

"It can be much worser," Ovechkin said when asked if he was scared in the moment. "I could lose my teeth."

Nicklas Backstrom had the same thought many of you are probably asking yourself right now: "Does he have any more teeth?"

It was just another reminder that Ovechkin is truly a machine. You know what they say, "Russian Machine...never gets broken."

I think that's how the saying goes.