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Caps' Brett Connolly settling in, producing after a disjointed start to the season

Caps' Brett Connolly settling in, producing after a disjointed start to the season

Six seasons and nearly 250 games into his NHL career, Brett Connolly has finally found a comfort level with a club, a couple of linemates and, more importantly, his own game.

“This is the first time that I’ve really felt something with a line,” Connolly said of skating with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky. “In my career, I’ve been all over the place, really. So, for now, to stick with a line and be producing, I feel my game is really good right now. I feel strong. I feel confident.”

And it shows.

Over the past eight games, the 24-year-old has racked up four goals and an assist. Only Justin Williams (6) and T.J. Oshie (5) have more goals during that timeframe for the streaking Caps.

On the season, Connolly now has eight goals in 33 games. A year ago, he posted nine goals in 71 contests with the Bruins.

“Conno is a finisher. There’s a reason he was drafted where he was; he’s got real good finish around the net,” Coach Barry Trotz said recently, referring to Connolly being selected sixth overall by the Lightning in 2010.

RELATED: Coaches declare Caps the favorite to win the Cup

Trotz said reason for the uptick in Connolly’s production is twofold: he’s developed good chemistry Eller and Burakovsky and he’s finally able to play fast and loose now that he’s completely comfortable with the Caps’ system.

“He’s playing the right way,” Trotz continued. “He’s playing hard. I think early in the season, some of his systematic decisions weren’t right. But now he’s got them down pretty good and it’s allowed him to play without thinking. He’s gotten used to how we play and his linemates and I think he’s got a skill set that can produce.”

Although Connolly’s only managed a couple of assists, he reminded everyone on Monday night that he can do more than just finish. He’s able to make plays, too. Midway through second period of the Caps’ 6-1 romp over the visiting Hurricanes, the 6 foot 3, 194-pound winger dished a touch pass right into Dmitry Orlov’s wheelhouse. And the defenseman delivered a one-timer from the point that put the Caps ahead 3-1.

The goal also underscored the cohesiveness the third line has found. The play began with Eller dropping the puck for Burakovsky on the cycle. Burakovsky then hooked off and zipped a cross-zone pass to Connolly, who deftly dished the puck right to Orlov.

Chemistry is often a hard thing to quantify. But you know it when you see it. And, right now, Eller, Connolly and Burakovsky definitely have it.

“Ever since they put me with Lars and Bruky consistently, it’s been really good,” Connolly said. “I think we’ve just found something here with that line. We’ve had some really good chemistry. That’s kind of what you’re looking for—you want to gel with some guys, and I think we’ve done that lately. I see it continuing. We know where each other are on the ice. We’ve been getting chances every game for the last three weeks. It’s just a matter of sticking with it, keep being confident and bear down on our chances when we get them.”

It also helps that Connolly is now getting a sweater on the regular. After Monday’s game, he’s suited up in a season-high 16 straight games. Over the first two-plus months, he was in and out of the lineup as Trotz tinkered with the lines and gave a couple of prospects a look.

“It was hard,” Connolly conceded. “It was one of those things where you don’t want to be sitting out and you feel like you deserve to be in there. You go in there, you play well and then you’re out and you don’t really know what’s going on. It was tough but you just got to stick with it. The coaches were good with me and it paid off obviously.”

If he keeps producing at his current clip, it could pay off for Connolly in a literal sense, too. He’s a restricted free agent at season’s end.

But all that’s a long ways off. Connolly said he wants to stay in the moment.

“It’s been a good little stretch here,” he said. “For me, you want to finish the season strong. If I can do that, nobody will remember what happened at the start of the year. We've got a good thing going here. We’ve got a good team. We’ve got four lines that are really good. If we just continue doing what we’re doing and keep getting better every game, we’re going to set ourselves up for a chance at the ultimate goal.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps power play is on fire

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Red Wings

3 reasons the Caps beat the Red Wings

Not much separated the Washington Capitals and the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. A late 2-on-0 goal for Brett Connolly proved to be the difference.

Here's why the Caps ultimately walked away with the 1-0 win.

A first period goalie interference call

Andreas Athanasiou thought he had given the Red Wings a first period lead, but Barry Trotz challenged the call for goalie interference. The review showed that Tyler Bertuzzi clipped Philipp Grubauer in the head with an elbow right before the shot went in. Given how long it took the Caps to get going in this game, it is fair to say an early deficit would have been hard to overcome.


Killing off a full two-minute 5-on-3

Two man advantages are hard to kill. Killing off a full two-minutes at 5-on-3, that's a tall task. With the game still scoreless in the second period, T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller were both assessed penalties giving Detroit two-full minutes at 5-on-3. The Red Wings managed four shots on goal, but Washington was able to successfully kill off the penalty and keep the game scoreless.

Philipp Grubauer

There were few players who had strong efforts on Tuesday, but Grubauer was phenomenal. Even when the game felt sleepy in the first two periods, Detroit still managed 28 shots on goal, all of which were turned aside by the German netminder. When Washington finally took the lead in the third, the Red Wings woke up and began pushing the offense, but Grubauer was in the zone at that point and could not be beaten. His best save came in the third period when he stared down a breakaway from Athanasiou and extended the pad to deny the shot.


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Tarik's 3 stars: Grubauer, Caps shut down the Red Wings

Tarik's 3 stars: Grubauer, Caps shut down the Red Wings

It wasn’t pretty but the Caps eventually got what they needed in Detroit: two points.  

After a sleepy first 40 minutes, Brett Connolly scored midway through the third period and then Philipp Grubauer made sure it stood up at Little Caesars Arena, where Washington eked out a 1-0 victory Thursday over the scuffling Red Wings.


Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Philipp Grubauer, Capitals

For much of the game, Grubi was left to fend for himself. Good thing for the Caps he was up to the task. The German netminder, who has been one of the NHL’s top goaltenders since Thanksgiving, turned aside 39 shots, including three stops on a pivotal 5-on-3 penalty kill in the second period.

2-Brett Connolly, Capitals

The Caps didn’t get many Grade-A opportunities vs. Jimmy Howard. But Connolly buried one of the few they got…on a 2-on-0, set up by Jakub Vrana in the third period.

Connolly’s goal was his 15th of the season in his 63rd game, equaling the career-high he set a year ago in 66 contests. Vrana, meantime, has three goals and five assists since getting scratched 12 games ago.

3-Lars Eller, Capitals

Eller didn’t record a point, but he was all over the puck in Motown. The veteran center finished with a game-high six shots on net. He also had a key backcheck against Darren Helm, on a shorthanded breakaway, in the first period.

Eller was good in the dot, too, winning eight of 12 faceoffs.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.