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For Williams, a grand celebration planned

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For Williams, a grand celebration planned

One day after his 19th birthday, Justin Williams played in his first NHL game, scoring a goal against Felix Potvin and assisting on two others in the Philadelphia Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

The date was Oct. 5, 2000.

Fifteen years later, before playing in his first game with the Capitals after signing a two-year deal, Williams was asked if he knew the significance of playing every game this season.

“Yep,” he said with a smile. “I do.”

Tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, Williams, 34, will play in his 82nd game this season and the 1,000th game of his NHL career, which began with a flair, was interrupted by injury and has included his name on the Stanley Cup three times and a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

“I think he's a perfect fit for our team,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “A perfect guy in the locker room. He's the kind of guy who knows exactly what he has to do. The people around him know he's a tremendous work-ethic guy out there, he tries to win every battle. In front of the net he's outstanding. For his size it's unbelievable what he can do in front of the net.”

In 999 NHL games, Williams has 249 goals and 385 assists for 634 points, a 0.63 point per game average. But in 115 career playoff games, William has 30 goals and 48 assists for 78 points, a 0.68 points per game average. Included in those totals are seven goals and seven assists in seven Game 7s, along with a perfect 7-0 record in the games that matter most.

“He’s unbelievable,” Capitals defenseman Mike Weber said. “What a tremendous veteran guy, an obvious leader. The Cups he has, the experiences he has. I’ve only played with a couple guys that have played 1,000 games and he’s one of the special ones. It’ll be a nice treat for him.”

To celebrate the occasion, the Capitals will hold a pre-game ceremony in which NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Jim Gregory will present Williams with a commemorative crystal from the NHL, and the Capitals will present Williams with a silver stick. Williams, who is nicknamed  “Stick,” also will receive a special gift from his teammates.

Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie said it’s Williams’ demeanor on the ice and on the bench that most impresses him.

“He doesn’t ever get too down on himself or anyone else,” said Oshie, who recently played in his 500th NHL game. “It seems when the game elevates and it gets more intense and the game’s on the line, he stays calm and he gets his game elevated. It’s a great trait to have.”

Taken by the Flyers with the 28th pick overall of the 2000 NHL draft, Williams broke his left hand in his rookie season and tore his ACL and MCL in his third season. He was dealt from the Flyers to the Carolina Hurricanes midway through the 2003-04 season for defenseman Danny Markov, a deal the Flyers wuld live to regret.

Williams again was slowed by injury in Carolina, missing time with a second knee surgery and another surgery to repair his Achilles tendon. In 2006 Williams won his first Stanley Cup, sealing the deal with an empty-netter in Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers.

Less than three years after winning the Cup in Carolina, Williams again was involved in a lopsided trade when he was sent to the L.A. Kings for forward Patrick O’Sullivan and a second-round pick. Again, he made his former team regret losing him, going on to win a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles.

In his past five seasons, Williams has missed just one game and this season he’s having one of his best offensive seasons, with 22 goals and 52 points in 81 games. Williams said the secret to his longevity is his ability to learn to pace himself.

“You figure out what you can do and what you can't do on the ice with regards to hitting, with regards to evading checks, with regards to making plays," he said. "Throughout my career I've learned about the body, learned about what you need to do on the ice and I've been able to stay healthy because of it.

"You go as hard as you can on the ice when you're on there," Williams said. "Pacing yourself is listening to your body and knowing when you need rest, knowing when to take an optional (practice), knowing that you need a good stretch here and there — just little things like that that elongate your career. People say, 'Stretch your legs, stretch your career.’”

Williams has done just that, but says there is something bigger, something shiny and silver, that still drives him.

“As I’ve kind of tried to do throughout my career, I set goals for myself and when I meet that goal I try and get another one,” he said. “A thousand games is certainly on that list and something I can can get to … and then think about playoffs after that.”

MORE CAPITALS: Should Capitals give Holtby a shot at 49th win?

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Capitals prospect report: The chocolate and white is feeling a bit black and blue

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USA Today

Capitals prospect report: The chocolate and white is feeling a bit black and blue

The Hershey Bears won their first game of the season on Tuesday, beating rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 3-2. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Hershey is now 1-5 on the season and sits in last place in the Atlantic Division.

The Bears missed the playoffs last season meaning a 1-5 start to this season is not sitting well for fans of the storied AHL franchise.

The roster in Hershey looks much improved compared to last season. So why are they struggling and how do they turn things around?

The biggest issue to me is cohesion. Head coach Spencer Carbery is in his first season with the team. In addition, this roster has had a lot of turnover. Caps prospects Shane Gersich, Juuso Ikonen, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Max Kammerer, Beck Malenstyn, Garrett Pilon, Brian Pinho, Tobias Geisser and Ilya Samsonov are all making their AHL debuts this season. Other additions such as Michael Sgarbossa, Jayson Megna and Sergei Shumakov makes this roster largely a collection of players who have not played together before. There were going to be growing pains, but the Bears are going to get better as the season goes along.

    Another issue has been injuries.

    Samsonov became just the latest in a long list of players on the shelf due to injury. It was announced on Wednesday that he suffered a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day. He did not dress for the team’s game that night and Hershey was forced to sign a local goalie, Padraig Carey, to an amateur tryout agreement to serve as the backup to Vitek Vanecek.

    Hershey recalled goalie Parker Milner from the ECHL on Thursday.

    In addition to Samsonov’s injury, Kris Bindulis, Colby Williams, Riley Barber, Ikonen and Shumakov are all dealing with upper-body injuries while Mason Mitchell has a lower-body ailment.

    Other prospect notes:

    • With so many new players, several have reached early career milestones. Pilon (2 assists), Kammerer (3 assists), Malenstyn (1 assist) and Jonsson-Fjallby (1 goal) all recorded their first AHL points over the week. Here’s a look at Jonsson-Fjallby’s goal:
       

    • Jonsson-Fjallby remains in Hershey despite rumors last week of a return to Sweden. Those rumors seem to have originated from Sweden and now it looks like any speculation of Jonsson-Fjallby leaving for his home country have been put to bed. Swedish outlet Expressen spoke with Joakim Eriksson, sports director of Jonsson-Fjallby’s Swedish team Djurgarden. In that report published Monday, Eriksson said (as translated by Google translate), “Axel has a contract with Washington and no other team. It's Axel's decision altogether, but we have said that we have a place available and that's how the situation has been. Everything else has just been media speculation.”
       
    • The blog Russian Machine Never Breaks made a trek out to Hershey and spoke with Ilya Samsonov about his transition to North America and his start in the AHL. “For so long, as you understand, I spent my whole life speaking a different language,” Samsonov said. “So, for now, it’s hard for me to hear what my teammates are saying on the ice. Some things I don’t understand, but I’m trying, and I think I’ve made a step forward in that regard.” Check out the full interview and article here.
       
    • I spoke with Capitals coach Scott Murray recently on Samsonov and the language barrier. “He actually did a really good job this summer,” Murray said. “He stayed in the US and did a really good job bridging that gap and then obviously we’ve made it a point and he’s made it a point that he wants to continually get better at the English language so that we can communicate because when you can communicate it’s way easier to teach, it’s way easier for him to learn and be engaged.”
       
    • Vanecek got his first win of the season on Wednesday and the Penguins made him earn it. He turned aside 40 shots in the effort, a new career-high for him.
       
    • Defenseman Tyler Lewington scored on Sunday against Rockford. It was his first goal since Nov. 11, 2017. You can see the replay of it here:  

    • Riley Sutter was named first star of the game on Saturday in Everett’s win over Kamloops in the WHL. He scored two goals and an assist to help lead Everett to the 7-2 victory.
       

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    Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

    Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

    On Thursday in New York, Tom Wilson will present his case to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and argue why he does not deserve the 20-game suspension handed down to him by the Department of Player Safety. Regardless of whether or not Bettman decides to reduce the suspension, there’s a larger question that now hangs over Wilson and one that will determine the direction his career goes from here.

    Can Wilson change his game?

    There is no question whether the hit he delivered to St. Louis Blue forward Oskar Sundqvist which earned him the suspension was illegal. The DoPS’s explanation video lays out why it was a bad hit. This is also Wilson’s fourth suspension in just 105 games meaning the next suspension will be even more severe.

    When you have to think about suspensions of more than 20 games, those are serious. They have serious consequences for both the team and the player.

    Like it or not, Wilson will have to change the way he plays. But can he?

    Can a player who has played a certain way his entire career, a player who made it to the NHL playing the way he does, simply change his game?

    “Every player can add different elements to their game,” Reirden said Tuesday when asked about Wilson. “I think it's a line that needs to be towed with him in regard to he has a physical element that is a difference maker for him and using him at the proper times and in the proper ways.”

    The team is not going to ask him to not be physical and, despite what Caps fans may think, neither will the league. The point is he needs to be smarter about when he is physical and make sure to keep his hits legal. That means playing smarter.

    The hit to Sundqvist was unnecessary. Wilson could have played the stick instead of going for the hit. The fact that it also came in the preseason is significant as well. At that point, he should not even be thinking about delivering a big hit to anyone because it is a meaningless game.

    Against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs last season, Wilson is headed to the bench for a line change, but turns to deliver a hit to Zach Aston-Reese. That hit ended up breaking Aston-Reese’s jaw and resulted in a three-game suspension for Wilson. He could have simply gone to the bench and the entire situation could have been avoided.

    Wilson absolutely can be a successful player if he plays smarter. He is not on the top line because of his hitting, he is there because he is a good skater with offensive skill who can win board battles with his physical play. The hits are just one aspect of his game, but he is a much more dynamic player than his detractors give him credit for.

    But there’s no denying part of what makes him successful is being a good hitter. Reirden knows that and doesn’t want that aspect to be taken out of Wilson’s game completely.

    “To expect him to go out there and not finish anymore checks is not going to be very effective either,” Reirden said. “We're working towards a good product for him so he can continue to be back in our team. He's such an important piece to what we do here. We want to have him back as quick as we can and then we want to keep him in the lineup so we'll be discussing that further after things are done.”


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