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Connolly has begun carving out a role with the Caps

Connolly has begun carving out a role with the Caps

If there was one Capital who desperately needed a productive night Friday it was Brett Connolly.

And then, as if on cue, the big right wing delivered in Washington's 3-1 win over the Jack Eichel-less Sabres at Verizon Center.

Connolly chipped in with the primary assist on the Capitals' first goal. And in the third period, he helped close out the visitors with a clutch tally on the power play with 4:55 left to play.

The assist on Daniel Winnik’s first period marker was Connolly’s first helper this season. The goal, meanwhile, was Connolly's first since Oct. 30 (and second in 12 games played this season).

“It’s nice to get out there and play consistently and be out there and feel a part of it,” Connolly said. “And to be in some key situations. I was happy it could pay off tonight with a goal and a win. Hopefully we can keep rolling them up.”

It’s been an uneven season for Connolly as far production and role. Both, however, seem to be trending in a positive direction for the 24-year-old, who has spent eight games as a healthy scratch this season.

With T.J. Oshie sidelined week-to-week with an upper body injury, the Capitals are down to 12 forwards, meaning Connolly no longer has to wonder if he’ll be in the lineup. More important, perhaps, he’s now getting a regular shift on the second power play unit, lining up in the middle of the diamond.

Which, of course, is where the puck found his stick against the Sabres.

Anders Nilsson turned back Alex Ovechkin’s initial shot, but the Buffalo goalie could not recover in time to stop Connolly, who had an empty net to fire the rebound into.

“It was a good time in the game to get one,” Connolly said. “I’ve played in that spot before.... It’s a good spot for me. I got a good shot. I just want to use it. I was happy to see that land on my tape.”

Coach Barry Trotz says Connolly’s skillset could make him a productive player with the man advantage.

“He’s dangerous if he’s got time in the middle,” Trotz said. “He can shoot it pretty good. He has those sniper qualities and [he] compete[s] on those loose pucks. He’s got good instincts in that [slot] area. I think that’s something that he can keep growing in his game.”

Trotz’s trust in Connolly is also growing. The former first round pick has now played in five consecutive games, his longest stretch of the season. On Friday, he skated 14:56, his second highest ice time total since joining the Capitals.

“There’s a lot of games this month and moving forward because there’s a little bit more of a condensed schedule,” Trotz explained. “So we’ve been needing those guys to contribute and try not to play Ovi and [Nicklas Backstrom] and those [top] guys 20 minutes a night. If we can spread the wealth, if you will, it will pay us dividends [because] we’ll be a little fresher [later in the season].”

Two goals and three points probably isn't the type of start Connolly (or the Caps) hoped he'd have. But Trotz sounds bullish on Connolly's potential now that he's settling in.

“Conno he has a real set of hands and he’s scored in the past,” Trotz added. “That’s sort of his player identity. He’s getting some confidence. He’s skating really well. I think he’s getting comfortable with us [and] I’m getting comfortable with him.”

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In a sport in which silence is the norm, Braden Holtby continues to be a voice for change

In a sport in which silence is the norm, Braden Holtby continues to be a voice for change

The phrase "stick to sports" is one often uttered by angry fans who don't want politics to bleed into their past time, who want sports to remain an escape from every day life. No sport has taken those words to heart in recent years more so than hockey where players very rarely come out and discuss political or social topics. Braden Holtby, however, has been a notable exception.

With the country locked in political unrest after the senseless murder of George Floyd, Holtby tweeted out an impassioned statement on Wednesday with his thoughts.

"I don't think this time is a time to sugarcoat anything," Holtby said Friday in a video conference. "I think it's a time to look at ourselves in the mirror and really find how we can be better and how we can take responsibility for the past and learn from that to move forward."

Holtby has been an outspoken advocate for human rights, particularly those of the LGBTQ community, for several years. Many hockey players have been outspoken in the wake of the protests currently gripping the country representing a shocking shift from the norm of silence we typically see in hockey from such issues.

Holtby, however, has never been shy about giving his thoughts.

"I don’t know why it’s been kind of taboo to speak your mind or stand up for what you believe in," Holtby said. "Obviously, there’s always this divide from sports to social issues. You want to be educated, you want to make sure that you know what you’re talking about [and] you’re not just using your platform to try and be popular or something like that."

RELATED: HOLTBY, WILSON MAKE STRONG STATEMENTS IN SUPPORT OF BLACK LIVES MATTER

Quick reactions on social media are easy and often without substance. Holtby, however, who professed that he actually dislikes social media and does not like to use it all that much, stressed the need for everyone, including himself, to educate themselves on the important issues facing the country before and in addition to speaking out.

"It wasn't until I moved here that you really understand what racial injustice is in this country," Holtby said, who is originally from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. "In Canada, we have indigenous rights and racism that way. I grew up around that, but this is different so I needed to educate myself and still need to. I believe how my parents did the right thing in teaching us in our situation. I learned a lot from them and Brandi as well and now we're just trying to take our knowledge we've learned in a different culture and try to teach our kids that way."

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But not everyone is open to hearing Holtby's thoughts on the matter.

When you speak out on these types of issues, you are bound to get plenty of backlash. Holtby has gotten such reaction from many who have decided that because he is a professional hockey player, he is for some reason no longer entitled to have a voice. There are also those who do not want to hear the opinion of a Canadian on America despite the fact that Holtby has been living in America since 2009.

"I think we all have our professions," Holtby said. "Everyone does. I don't know if any of us have -- unless your job is to fight racial inequalities or any sort of social issues that way, we're all just trying to be humans. And we just happen to have a following based on our job where people see us and it's easier to see us. It's crazy to think that that's an argument. We play hockey on the ice. We live our lives just as humans off of the ice and try to do our part that way. The second part about the Canadian thing is I've lived here for over 10 years now, so we call this home. This is my kids' home. My kids are both American. I feel like I'm fortunate to have been in both countries and be a part of both countries. I've said this a long (time): Canada follows America in a lot of ways. If you go from Canada to America, you don't see a ton of difference. The northern part of the states are very similar to Canada, and I believe when you try to make changes in one [it affects the other]."

But when the issues are important enough, it's easy to tune out the naysayers.

"I'm just trying to learn how I can do my part and my family's part to help people out," Holtby said. "I'm really hoping and I really believe that this is going to change the world in a lot of ways."

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Watch Alex Ovechkin’s son Sergei work on his slap shot

Watch Alex Ovechkin’s son Sergei work on his slap shot

The future looks bright for the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin’s son Sergei as an up-and-coming star.

Ovechkin’s wife Nastya captured an adorable moment on her Instagram story Thursday afternoon when Sergei practiced his shot and found the back of his miniature net on six consecutive attempts – just like his father would.


Nastya praised her 1-year-old, saying “Bravo!” after every goal scored, before he celebrated in classic Ovechkin fashion.

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While Ovi's eldest son has been occupied with his new role as a big brother as of late, he makes sure to leave plenty time to work on his slap shot and practice his celly, too, of course.

It looks like the young star is already on track to catch his father at 700 and make his debut in the 2038 NHL season.

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