On the surface, Justin Williams seems to be having a pretty good start to his first season as a member of the Capitals. Through 12 games he has two goals, eight assists and is a plus-4 while averaging 16:24 of ice time, and he has yet to take a penalty.
So is Williams happy about the 14-goal, 69-point pace he’s on right now?
“No,” he said emphatically on Friday. “I’m not even close to where I want to be. I’m not even close. I’m not sure there’s a reason for it but the trick is for me to find it.”
Twice in Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Bruins, which improved the Caps’ record to 9-3-0, Williams got caught on extended shifts because of his own defensive zone turnovers. On one them, a blind pass to the middle of the ice resulted in two prime scoring chances for the Bruins, one of which Williams smothered with a blocked shot just above the crease.
“That’s not the norm for him,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who yanked Williams off the second line and replaced him with Andre Burakovsky, who will stay in that spot Saturday night when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Verizon Center (7 p.m., CSN).
“When he says he’s not happy with his play I can understand that a little bit because he’s so reliable on the walls all the time and in the last little while he hasn’t been as reliable there as we’d like to see him,” Trotz said. “But he’ll get it back. Sometimes you shake one or two guys on the lines and it works better. He’s a real good pro and a tremendous player. He’s a top-six forward that’s going to produce.”
Williams, who turned 34 earlier this month, will play on a third line with left wing Jason Chimera, 36, and center Jay Beagle, 30, a pair of forwards known for playing a north-south game.
“If I do end up playing with Chimmer and Beags it’ll be good,” Williams said. “I’ll be able to simplify a lot more and maybe that’s what I need.”
Williams, who has seen more penalty kill time this season (16:10) than he did all of last season with the Kings (11:28), said he had grown accustomed to certain breakout patterns in Los Angeles that are not employed by the Capitals.
“It seems like the whole game is a different way of playing right now,” Williams said. “Everything’s just kind of get it out of the zone and bring speed to it. It’s not like three or four passes to get out of the zone like it was in LA. It’s not D-to-D to the low center or wing. It’s get it out and get going. That’s why it’s so fast.”
Because so many NHL teams play a pressure game, Williams said more teams are changing their breakout strategies by keeping their wingers along the boards near the center-ice red line. Defensemen are being asked to make long stretch passes to those wingers, who are responsible for either deflecting pucks into the offensive zone, or making quick passes to a center or defenseman coming through the neutral zone with speed.
“It makes it a lot simpler,” Williams said, “but when there’s pressure and you turn the puck over there’s not someone to help you out immediately. But if you learn to do it right, more often than not you’re successful.”