Brett Connolly was a healthy scratch the first time his new team played his old one.
But he got the chance to face Boston on Wednesday night—and the veteran winger made up for lost time, scoring the Capitals’ fourth goal in an eventual 5-3 victory at Verizon Center.
From his first shift of the night, it was obvious that Connolly had a little extra juice. And why not? It was the first time he had faced the Bruins, the club that declined to retain his contractual rights last summer.
“I was obviously excited for it ready for it,” Connolly said. “Anytime you get a chance to play against your old team, you want to play well and to get one. And when it comes at a big time in the game, it’s always fun. But we got the win and that’s most important.”
Coach Barry Trotz said everyone on the Caps’ bench knew how much the game meant to Connolly, who has overcome an uneven start to become one of Washington’s key depth players.
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“No question,” Trotz said, “everybody wants to score against their old team. He had a little extra incentive.”
A lot has changed for Connolly since the Caps last hosted the Bruins on Dec. 7. Back then, the 24-year-old was in and out of Trotz’s lineup as the coach mixed and matched his forward combinations, searching for the right mix. And on that night, he was out, again.
Trotz, however, found that mix about a month ago—and it included Connolly skating on the third line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky. Since that trio was put together, Connolly has scored six goals.
In all, he now has nine tallies on the season—the same total he produced in 71 games with the Bruins a year ago.
Connolly’s career-high for goals is 12, set as a member of the Lightning 2014-15.
As for his goal against Boston on Wednesday, it was a big one for the player’s pride and the Caps' odds of holding on for the ‘W’. Washington was clinging to a 3-2 lead early in the third period when Connolly finished a deft touch-pass from defenseman Dmitry Orlov by deking the puck around all-star goalie Tuukka Rask.
“There’s a lot of firepower on this team; everybody can make plays,” Connolly said. “Orly just one-touched it to me and that was an easy one, just put it around [Rask] and put it into an empty net.”
Trotz said he likes Connolly's skill set and what he brings to the lineup.
“I didn’t like the penalty he took, obviously, but he’s playing and skating really well,” Trotz said, referring to an interference infraction Connolly was assessed in the first period. “He’s got hockey I.Q., he can make plays, he’s got a great release. There’s a lot of things to like about Brett’s game. It took him a while to assimilate to our organization [but now] he has.”
“And that line—him and Lars and Burakovsky—you got to feel pretty good about them,” the coach added.