After recording only one point in his first 19 games in the NHL, Zach Sanford's mission in his return to the Capitals seemed relatively simple: Generate points. He was unable to do that on Saturday in Washington's 2-1 loss to Montreal, but he did show flashes of what Barry Trotz hoped he could bring to the lineup in his return from the AHL.
“I think the trip down to Hershey was helpful for me," Sanford said following Saturday's loss. "With my skills and just the little plays, I think coming back tonight I felt pretty good.”
Sanford scored four goals and three assists in six games with the Bears, showing an offensive flair that was absent in his first tour with the Capitals. But his return came against a tough Montreal team that smothered the Caps’ offense on Saturday.
The Canadiens held Washington to only 21 shots on goal, far too easy a workload for Carey Price, arguably the best goalie in the NHL.
Skating on the third line with Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana, Sanford did not record a shot on goal.
After the game, Sanford said generating shots on goal was “a big focus for me” and that getting shots through the defense was one of the biggest challenges of the NHL as compared to the AHL. That was evident Saturday as all three of Sanford’s shot attempts on the night were blocked.
Sanford also noted the speed of the game in the NHL.
“You get a lot less time here when you get the puck. [In the AHL] you might be able to take an extra stride or move the puck just a little bit more, but here it's bang-bang. You've got to get it off quick.”
But while the scoring opportunities weren’t there Saturday for Sanford, they were there for Vrana who seemed to have an instant chemistry with the fellow rookie on the third line.
“I think it could be a good thing,” Sanford said. “[Vrana’s] a shooter first and I'm kind of a passer first and I think we both play with speed and he's a really skilled player. I think if we keep working together I think it'll work out nicely.”
Head coach Barry Trotz offered a lukewarm review of Sanford's night, calling his performance “fine.".
“I looked at his game and I can't say he wowed me or anything and I can't say that he did anything poorly. But that was our team a little bit, they were just not quick enough tonight.”
For a rookie straight out of college looking for an offensive spark in his return to the NHL, playing against Price and the Canadiens was perhaps too tall a task. But while his performance didn’t generate any points on Saturday, it did leave enough for him to build on going forward andk, for a rookie who was in need of a confidence boost, that’s what’s most important for him at this point.
Sanford’s lack of production through the first 19 games was negatively affecting his play. That was not the case on Saturday.
Now with budding chemistry between him and Vrana and a greater appreciation for the speed with which he needs to work with at the NHL level, Sanford showed Saturday that the offensive potential is there.
Now he just needs to keep his confidence up until the points come.
“It's tough to lose, but personally I felt pretty good and my legs felt good,” Sanford said. “I was making some plays with the puck. Obviously there's a couple plays I'd like to have back, but overall I thought it went pretty well.”
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