PHILADELPHIA – Capitals right wing Brett Connolly has plenty of time to ponder his future, plenty of hours to wonder if his hockey career will continue in Washington or if his play this season is pricing him out of what’s become home.
That’s a great, if stressful, problem to have, but Connolly wants no part of it right now. There is a Metropolitan Division to win and a Stanley Cup title to defend. Thursday at Wells Fargo Center, Connolly scored two goals and had an assist in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
“This season’s been obviously good statistically. For my game I just feel really comfortable out there,” Connolly said. “In different situations I feel comfortable. It’s just been a really good fit for me. I’ve said it a million times. The guys let me come in and be myself and let me play. Definitely the most fun I’ve had playing hockey – and last year winning [the Stanley Cup]. It’s been a good season. Looking to finish strong.”
Connolly’s game against the Flyers epitomized his season. His line of center Lars Eller and left wing Carl Hagelin dominated play in the first period en route to a pair of goals and a 2-0 lead. Connolly scored again at 8:43 of the second period to make it 3-1 Washington and answer a Flyers goal.
“He’s got one of the best shots I’ve ever seen. How quick he gets it off and accurate with it,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. “For a guy that, when you look at the minutes played, scores consistently and he works a lot harder than you see. He’s trying to find those open areas to get that shot off. A guy that can consistently bring it every night and wants to score, loves to score, and their line basically won us the game tonight.”
Make it 19 goals and 20 assists for Connolly. He has set career highs in both categories for the second year in a row. Tom Wilson became the latest Capitals player to reach 20 goals this season with a goal on Thursday. Connolly could join him with 11 games left to do it. Not bad for a player who was a reclamation project when he signed in the summer of 2016.
Connolly has 49 goals in just under three seasons and has become a reliable depth scoring threat on a third line that was very good in the playoffs last season, caught fire with Andre Burakovsky at left wing last month at the start of a seven-game winning streak and has only continued with the acquisition of Hagelin just a few days before the Feb. 25. NHL trade deadline.
All of that leaves Connolly with some decisions to make this summer. The Capitals already extended his contract once after he scored 15 goals in 2016-17. That two-year deal is coming to an end and there’s sure to be some offensively challenged teams looking for punch this summer when Connolly is an unrestricted free agent.
Always up against the salary cap and with the top priority a new deal for 23-year-old winger Jakub Vrana, a restricted free agent, Connolly might be playing so well that he’s pricing himself out of the place that finally gave him a steady home.
The No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft, Connolly never lived up to expectations with the Tampa Bay Lightning then or with the Boston Bruins in his second stop. He proved long ago with the Capitals that he’s not a bust. Now he’s proved to be a quality player on a Cup champion and is building on that.
“I don't think a lot of wingers playing on the third line and not playing a lot of power play are going to get 20 goals,” Eller said. “You're certainly getting a lot of value with Brett. You're getting a lot of bang for the buck for sure."
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- No Nights Off: No one has tougher schedule to finish season than Caps
- Capitals Mailbag: Hagelin, Jensen fitting in perfectly
- Ovechkin-Crosby: One of history's greatest rivalry
- NHL Power Rankings: Is Metro Division Caps' to lose?