Over the past week, Justin Williams has begun to resemble the Justin Williams that amassed 22 goals and 30 assists a season ago. And that’s a huge development for the player, who is due to become a free agent at season’s end, and the team, which will need his offensive contributions to realize its full potential.
Williams now has four points (three goals and one assist) during the Capitals’ four-game winning streak after ripping a shot past Jakob Markstrom in the third period of Sunday’s 3-0 victory over visiting Vancouver.
“I don’t know about ‘it’,” Williams joked when asked if he starting to feel it a little bit more these days. “But I’m feeling better with the puck. A little more composed. Making plays with a little more confidence out there, absolutely.”
“I’m hoping do to do a lot more,” he added, “because this team needs me to.”
Sunday’s goal finished off a pretty, if slightly confounding, play. After Markstrom stopped Dmitry Orlov’s point shot, the puck squirted out to Alex Ovechkin, who made a deft touch pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov as the centerman cruised down the slot. But instead of shooting the puck himself, Kuznetsov tapped the puck through three Canucks over to Williams in the circle.
Williams wasn’t expecting the pass. But he’s played with Kuznetsov long enough to know to keep his stick on the ice. At all times. Just in case.
“I think the whole arena was surprised,” Williams said of Kuzy’s pass. “I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Then all of a sudden you have a gaping net. You have to be ready when Kuzy has the puck the puck because he makes plays that you don’t necessarily think are coming. He has great vision and that was a prime example.”
Coach Barry Trotz cracked: “I’m not surprised [when] we don’t shoot sometimes. I’ve seen it up close and personal.”
Trotz also is not surprised that Williams, a 16-year NHL veteran, has found his way out of a slump that saw him score just one goal in the first 15 games.
“They’re just starting to go in for ‘Stick’ now,” Trotz said, calling Williams by his nickname. “His work ethic has been consistent. You get some payback if you just stay with it, and he’s stayed with it.”
Now 27 games into the campaign, Williams has five goals and three assists.
Indeed, Stick is starting to heat up. So, too, are the Caps. And not a moment too soon for either.
“We seem to be trending in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve won four in a row, but I think we’ve played better in every game that we’ve won so far. I’m happy with that. I’m happy we were able to shut the game down tonight as we did.”
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