Whenever the Capitals have found themselves in a lineup bind this season, the solution has often been Conor Sheary.
He’s played on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and was expected to contribute offensively. He’s played on the fourth line with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway and was expected to play against other teams’ top lines.
Sheary’s mix of speed and playmaking ability has made him a useful weapon for coach Peter Laviolette to utilize, and the results have been stellar for both Sheary and the Capitals.
“Invaluable,” Laviolette said. “His ability to jump around in positions and jump around in lines and go on the checking line or go up and play with Kuzy and OV and have the skillset to be able to do that, it’s been a real strength of our team.”
In 65 games this season, Sheary has 17 goals and 22 assists. The former is fourth-best on the team and the latter is fifth-best and, statistically, it’s been the second-best season of his career.
But the manner in which he’s got there has been what’s most valuable for the Capitals.
He’s played more than 100 minutes at five-on-five with seven different forwards this season, as he’s bounced around to wherever the Capitals need him to be. He’s also played on the team’s top power-play unit (from which six of his points have come) and he’s even seen some time on the penalty kill — his time on the ice with the Capitals shorthanded (28:22) has been more than his previous seven seasons combined.
“It’s just the same mindset every game,” Sheary said. “Whatever line I’m on, I bring the same thing. I bring energy, I bring my speed, I bring my forecheck ability. I think if I bring that to every line I can help the other guys around me, whether it’s with Kuzy, who’s a skilled guy at creating plays and wants to play offense all the time, or if I’m with Dowder’s line and I have to match up against top lines. I think it’s just keeping my mindset and keeping my preparation the same.”
Sheary’s versatility, in a year like the Capitals have had, has taken on greater importance considering the bevy of injuries that has hampered the team, and the COVID absences that have affected every team in the NHL.
“It might change a few things, but overall you’ve just got to prepare the same way,” Sheary said of juggling lines. “At the beginning of COVID and the beginning of these canceled games and losing players and all that, it was a little bit of mayhem in the locker room, you don’t know what’s going to happen. At this point, I think it’s almost expected that something is going to happen. You just kind of roll with it.”
In the Capitals’ most recent win, a 3-2 road win against the Avalanche, he skated with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, the first time that trio has played together all season. They outshot their opponents 6-3 at five-on-five and Sheary set up the game-winning goal on a pass to Johansson backdoor.
The Capitals don’t appear to be done tinkering with lines, and that’s something that will likely continue into the playoffs too. But whenever they need someone to fill in at one of the eight wing spots in the lineup, Sheary fits the bill of what they’re looking for.
“There’s other players that do that too, but he’s certainly one guy that we’ve bumped around to different positions,” Laviolette said. “He never balks, he never says a word about it, he just goes out and he plays hard every night. He tries to play the role the way that he needs to play it based on where he’s at in the lineup.”