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A chat with Justin Williams and his friend Stanley

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A chat with Justin Williams and his friend Stanley

About to embark on his 15th NHL season and his first with the Capitals, three-time Stanley Cup winner Justin Williams sat down with Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley to discuss his thoughts on his new team and his intimate relationship with Lord Stanley’s Cup.

So, it’s been a few weeks since you and your family arrived in town. How are things going with everyone?

It’s been pretty easy so far. The kids are both in school, they started this week. Jaxon (7) is in Grade 1 and Jade (4) started Pre-K. My wife (Kelly) and I got the home pretty much settled and we settled into a routine. Just another hockey season.

We talked with Barry Trotz the other day and he said the one thing teammates really want to know from you is what you did with the Cup. So, what did you do?

The first time I won (with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006) I was young (24) and I think I was very naïve to the fact I’d just win a couple more. It took me 10 years to eventually win another one. The first time I brought it back to my hometown of Cobourg (Ontario) and we took it out in Toronto, me and a couple friends.

What kind of reaction did you get?

‘That’s not the real one, is it?’  That type of thing. People would walk in dumbfounded, like, ‘No, that’s not what I think it is!’ It becomes a little bit of a sideshow. That’s why after that (when he won with the Kings in 2012 and 2014) I just kept it local and kind of to myself. You give it out for a little bit during the day because really, your day with the Cup is all about everybody else, to be honest with you. Everyone else wants a piece of it. But at night time you want some me time.

So, did you tuck it in next to you?

I did. (Big smile)

You slept with it?

I slept with it. (Another big smile)

So how can you describe to someone who hasn’t won a Cup what it takes to win one?

I think the ride and the lead-up and the hard work it takes to attain it makes it all worthwhile. The war you go through with all your friends and teammates and the guys you care about, and reaching the pinnacle of everybody’s hockey career together is just a special feeling and that’s what makes it so special as well.

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Can you ever know in September if a team can win it all in June?

No, absolutely not. You can’t, unless you’ve done it before together as a team. You don’t really learn about anybody as a player and what they’re made of in October and November. March, April, May, June, it’s those months when you’ve really gotta dig deep. When everybody’s tired and everybody wants it, that’s when you learn more about what kind of player you are and what kind of player others are.

A lot of people talk about this team being Stanley Cup ready and how Ovi is in his prime and the window may be closing. Do you feel players need to reach a point in their careers where they’re mature enough to win the Cup?

I don’t think so. Guys experience winning at 18 years old and continue to win. Guys experience it at a young age and then forget how hard they worked to actually get there. It’s hard to say, but it’s extremely gratifying to see a guy who’s been around for a long time attain his goal. I was able to do that in Carolina with a lot of the older guys on that team. It was something special to see the emotion they had because they were in their late 30s. Roddy Brind’Amour, Bret Hedican, Glen Wesley, Ray Whitney. Guys who weren’t able to get there and did and it’s cool to share it with them.

I guess coaches can fall into that category, too, right? Barry Trotz is a guy who has put in his time and hasn’t won it. Do guys around the league root for coaches like Barry?

Absolutely. He’s another guy who – certainly this is a long way in the distant future – but you can envision yourself celebrating that with him. Listen, I feel that all the pieces are here, but it’s September and it’s way too early to even start thinking about that. The hardest part is just getting into the playoffs every year and you have to get in before we can even talk about any of this stuff.

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Even with everything going right for the Capitals, the penalty kill continues to struggle

Even with everything going right for the Capitals, the penalty kill continues to struggle

It’s hard to punch holes in a team that has won five straight and 12 of its last 14, but if there is one cause for concern in recent days for the Capitals it is the penalty kill.

Washington gave up three power play goals to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and another two to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. In fact, Buffalo’s power play actually scored three times, but the first penalty to Michal Kempny on Saturday expired just as the goal was scored, literally exactly two minutes after the penalty was called. Officially, it was not considered a power play goal, but with the door just opening for Kempny to return, the Caps were still obviously shorthanded when the goal was scored.

Washington struggled on the penalty kill at the start of the season, but things improved dramatically when Tom Wilson returned from suspension. From Nov. 13 – when Wilson made his season debut – to Dec. 14, the penalty kill managed to kill off 85.-4 percent of the power plays it faced. The last two nights, however, the PK managed only 44.4-percent and that’s not counting the Sabres’ third goal that came as the penalty expired.

“We’ve got to continue to get better there,” Reirden said. “We had a stretch where we were doing a better job and then now it's finding its way, multiple ways, different ways into our net. That's not a winning recipe for success.”

So concerned about the penalty kill was Reirden after Friday’s game that he broke up the team’s red-hot fourth line in an attempt to add in another penalty killer. Reirden said before the game that the team’s metrics indicate Chandler Stephenson – who was a healthy scratch on Friday – is one of their better penalty killers. In order to get him back into the lineup, Reirden scratched Dmitrij Jaskin despite the incredible stretch he, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd have enjoyed in recent days.

Washington may have gotten the win on Saturday, but in terms of improving the penalty kill, the move did not work.

The numbers from Saturday may be bad, but if you are looking for a silver lining, it is the fact that none of Buffalo’s three goals seem to have come as a result of a defensive breakdown. Jack Eichel netted the kinda-sorta power play goal when goalie Pheonix Copley gave up a rebound right to him on the far-side. Eichel then made a great individual effort to score the second goal, victimizing Dmitry Orlov with some fancy stick work and tucking the puck into the net just over the shoulder of Copley. Rasmus Dahlin scored the third goal when a Jeff Skinner shot from the slot was blocked and came straight to the rookie defenseman.

“They weren't exactly tic-tac-toes,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “It happens. We’ve just got to stay the course and continue to get better.”

Of those three goals, the only one that looked like a bad play was the third as two Caps collapsed on Skinner leaving Dahlin open, but the point remains that the penalty kill did not appear to be egregiously bad.

Regardless of whether the goals are the result of breakdowns or bad luck, however, the fact is that the penalty kill is charged with keeping the puck out of the net it is has not been able to do so of late.

The Caps are off on Sunday, but will have two days of practice before Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, plenty of time to shore things up on a suddenly leaky PK.

Said Reirden, “It's an area that we've got to work on here while we've got some practice time this week before we play Pittsburgh.”

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Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — To hear Alex Ovechkin tell it, Saturday night was a rough one for him.

“I have pretty good chances, but today, it was not my day,” Ovechkin said. “You can't score every night."

You wonder if Ovechkin watched the contest he just played in. He scored a goal for the sixth game in a row in a 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres. He had a game-high eight shots on goal. He set a new career-high point scoring streak (14 games). He had the goal that proved to be the winner in the shootout. He leads the NHL with 29 goals and no one else is even close. Things are going pretty well. 

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down. We’ve got to as a team really rally around that. When he’s playing that well you want to have guys really look at that and take it another level and fall in behind that.” 

Only five players age 33 or older have had a longer point streak than Ovechkin’s 14 games. His next goal will secure his 14th 30-goal season. He has 23 points during this stretch (17 goals, six assists). You run out of superlatives. 

The same goes for his team. On the heels of a hat trick in Carolina on Friday, Ovechkin helped Washington to its fifth win in a row. The Capitals are 13-3 in their past 16 games and swept a back-to-back set with the Hurricanes and Sabres. Washington is 20-9-3 and with 43 points is six up on second place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. 

Things weren’t perfect on Saturday. The Sabres scored twice on the power play to make it 3-2 before Ovechkin tied it with a booming slap shot after a turnover at 13:46 of the second period. Pheonix Copley stopped 25 of 28 shots subbing for No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, but the penalty kill continues to tank. 

Buffalo scored twice on the power play to take the lead and the first goal of the game by rising star Jack Eichel came exactly two minutes after a Michal Kempny penalty. You can count that as another if you’d like. Close as it gets. Considering Washington coach Todd Reirden put Chandler Stephenson back into the lineup Saturday because of his prowess on the PK, that’s a bad sign. 

So there are things to work on. But the Capitals are in a good position in the standings. Their stars are scoring. Their injury situation has improved somewhat with defenseman Brooks Orpik on the way by the end of the month. It’s only mid December and there are 50 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat and the playoffs seem forever away. But, for now anyway, life is good.      

“It wasn’t an easy night, but definitely we worked for those last two win,” Connolly said. “It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is having fun, everyone is positive and happy. It’s always so much better when you’re winning.” 


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