If the Pittsburgh Penguins can close out the San Jose Sharks with a win tonight at Consol Energy Center, Eric Fehr won’t be the only former Capital to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
Sergei Gonchar, who was drafted by the Capitals in the first round (14th overall) of the 1992 NHL draft and played 10 seasons in Washington from 1994-2004, would be fitted for his second Stanley Cup ring. (Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet spent 13 games with the Caps in the 1996-97 season).
After 20 seasons in the NHL, Gonchar, 42, was hired by the Penguins as a defensemen development coach in October after failing to make the club on a tryout contract in training camp.
Under the supervision of Gonchar, the Pens finished the regular season ranked sixth in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.43) and they enter tonight’s Game 5 in Pittsburgh ranked third in the playoffs at 2.27, behind only the Capitals (1.83) and Anaheim Ducks (2.00).
“I think Sergei, he's been terrific,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said on Thursday, hours before Game 5. “He has a nice demeanor about him. He has a great relationship with our defense core. I think he offers them a lot of subtle insights into how to be a more effective player.”
During his 10 seasons in Washington, only Nicklas Lidstrom put up more points than Gonchar, who delivered 144 goals and 272 assists in 654 games with the Caps before he was traded to the Bruins on March 3, 2004 in exchange for defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and draft picks in the first and second rounds of the 2004 NHL draft that turned out to be defenseman Jeff Schultz and center Mikhail Yunkov.
After leaving the Caps, Gonchar went on to play 647 more games in the NHL for the Bruins, Penguins, Stars, Canadiens and Senators and finished his playing career ranked 16th among all NHL defensemen with 811 points in 1,301 games, most ever by a Russian-born NHL defenseman. He also welcomed Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin into his home when Malkin was a rookie center with the Penguins in 2006. Gonchar helped the Penguins get to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons, winning his first and only NHL championship in 2009.
“He's certainly a guy they have a tremendous amount of respect for because of what he's accomplished in the game,” Sullivan said. “I think the fact that he's so close to having played with a lot of these guys, they can certainly relate to him because it hasn't been too long since he has been in the heat of the battle himself.
“Top to bottom, from Kris Letang on down, I think Sergei has been invaluable for that group.”