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After a dry spell, Caps' Daniel Winnik rediscovers his scoring touch

After a dry spell, Caps' Daniel Winnik rediscovers his scoring touch

Although Daniel Winnik's job description is that of a checking line winger and penalty kill specialist, the veteran has the ability to get hot offensively, too.

Case in point: the Capitals’ last three games.

Winnik has two goals, including a clutch tally in Detroit, and a primary assist during that span. Only Nicklas Backstrom has been more productive.

The reason for the sudden uptick? He’s gotten back to what was working for him earlier this season. 

“I looked back at my goals and they had all been around the net,” Winnik said after Tuesday’s practice. “So I just put more of a focus lately on getting to the net.”

“Sometimes,” he continued, “I have the habit of being the corner guy, digging out pucks and passing to the point. Sometimes I’m not getting to the net. So when I don’t have the puck and someone else does, I’m just focusing on getting to that blue paint, and hopefully pucks get there.”

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Which is exactly how he helped the Caps rally to salvage a standings point against the Red Wings on Saturday afternoon. With five minutes remaining at The Joe and the visitors trailing by a goal, T.J. Oshie carried the puck into the offensive zone as Winnik made a beeline to the net. Petr Mrazek stopped Oshie’s shot, but Winnik outmuscled defenseman Brendan Smith and used his stick to bat the rebound out of midair and into the net to knot the game 2-2.

The goal was Winnik’s eighth of the season but his first away from Verizon Center. It was also his second strike in two games. Against the Ducks, Winnik scored his second shorthanded goal of the season thanks to a great individual effort that began in the Caps’ end. That also goal ended a 17-game drought for Winnik.

Earlier in Anaheim game, Winnik also had a highlight reel setup pass that left Tom Wilson with a layup.  

Coach Barry Trotz said he’s not surprised by Winnik’s recent offensive outburst. Trotz said he implored him to think more about producing more points.

“Winnie has a pretty good skill set,” Trotz said. “We’re using him in a defensive role. But the one thing that I told him…I trust you defensively and I think you can be a real reliable player in this year. But there’s more, you can bring some offense. He can keep people off the board and then get those important goals at important times because a lot of time he’s out against offensive lines that don’t think [defense first].”  

Although Winnik’s game is on the rise as the season enters the stretch run, this hasn’t been any smoothest campaign for the 10th-year veteran. From opening night until late December, he found himself scratched 10 times as Trotz searched for the right line combinations.

Winnik said he got through that difficult phase with the help of a sports psychologist that he began seeing over the summer and has continued to consult in-season.

“It was hard,” Winnik said of being scratched. “To be honest, if it weren’t for me seeing a sports psychiatrist this summer in San Francisco, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it so well. I give Dr. [Michael] Tompkins a lot of credit for how I handled the situation.”

With 24 games remaining and his role now well-defined, it’s possible Winnik will top his previous career-high of 11 goals in addition to being the Caps' second most important forward on the penalty kill. But as a veteran on a team with championship aspirations, he says he's focused on making sure the group is playing the right way down the stretch.

“I hope we’re not just looking at it as, ‘Hey let’s just get through these last 24 games,’” said Winnik, who turns 32 next month. “That’s what it was like last year when I got here [via trade]. There was such a big cushion that there weren’t many meaningful games. This year, it’s a lot tighter and more teams are in the playoff race, so we’re going have harder games to play in. Hopefully that—and learning from last year—will helps us.”

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Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

The Capitals have a superstar Russian, an incredible Swedish center, a Canadian netminder, but the team also boasts several American players as well. On the 4th of July when American celebrate the birth of our nation, lets put down the barbecue, apple pie and fireworks for a few minutes to remember some of the top highlights from each of the team's Americans.

Travis Boyd: 4 goals for Hayden

In Feb. 2018, Boyd turned hardship into an inspirational moment. While with the Hershey Bears, Boyd's daughter, Hayden, developed a serious infection and had to go to the hospital. Boyd went with her on a Sunday and did not leave until Friday morning to prepare for that night's game, a game in which he would score four goals.

John Carlson: The golden goal

Carlson has numerous highlights from his career with the Caps, but on Indepence Day it seems only fitting to look back at his biggest goal for his country. Carlson represented Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships which was hosted by Canada that year. USA made it all the way to the final where the played the host nation. Tied at 5 through regulation, Carlson scored the golden goal off a 2-on-1 as he caught the goalie leaning anticipating the pass.

Nic Dowd: Historic penalty shot

In Game 5 of the Caps' series against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019, Nic Dowd was slashed by defenseman Dougie Hamilton while he was in alone on goalie Petr Mrazek. Dowd was awarded the first penalty shot of his career and he delivered, dekeing right to open up Mrazek's pads and tucking the puck through the 5-hole. In addition to being his first penalty shot goal, the goal was also Dowd's first-career playoff point.

The goal also had some historic significance for the team as it was Washington's first ever playoff penalty shot goal.

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Garnet Hathaway: Shows his toughness against the Rangers

On Oct. 18, the Caps hosted the New York Rangers and it proved to be an pretty epic night for Hathaway. He was knocked out of the game in the second period with a broken nose after a big hit from Jacob Trouba, came back in the third, drew a cross-check, fought Brendan Smith (again, with a broken nose), the Caps scored on the resulting power play and Hathaway returned to score the empty-netter.

That’s a pretty unbelievable game.

Nick Jensen: Assisting on goal No. 700

Jensen has been with the Capitals for about a year and a half, but he will forever be linked to the team's greatest franchise player thanks to one assist.

Against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 22, Jensen grabbed a loose puck behind the offensive goal line and sent it back behind the net to keep the offensive cycle going. That allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Alex Ovechkin who scored career goal No. 700.


T.J. Oshie: T.J. Sochi

Who could forget about Oshie's incredible performance at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi?

Playing against Team Russia, USA leaned heavily on Oshie in the shootout. He would score four times on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as USA walked away victorious.

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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.

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Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?

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Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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