After being held without a point through the season’s first three games, the Capitals’ third line broke through in Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Panthers in South Florida.
Right wing Justin Williams staked the Caps to an early 1-0 lead by finishing off a splendid centering pass from defenseman Nate Schmidt. As Williams whacked his own rebound past Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, center Lars Eller crashed the net while left wing Brett Connolly covered the point for Schmidt, who was credited with the only assist.
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Although Eller and Connolly are still looking for their first point, it’s now official: all four of the Capitals’ forward lines have scored at least one goal.
“They were a hard working line,” Coach Barry Trotz told reporters afterward. “They were keeping it simple. They were working hard. They were winning their battles that were in on. And when you do that [and] you play the right way, you’re going to have some success. And they did.”
It was goal No. 250 for Williams, who acknowledged the milestone by noting that he's only 500 goals behind Jaromir Jagr, who netted No. 750 in the same game.
Thursday’s matchup marked the second straight game for the Connolly-Eller-Williams combination, but it was the first in which all three registered at least one shot on goal. Williams, in fact, finished tied for the team lead in shots on goal with four. Entering the game, he had mustered just one shot in three contests.
“I think we’ve done better, marginally, every game we’ve played,” Williams said. “It’s kind of hard not to; we didn’t have some great games to start.”
Prior to Thursday’s breakthrough, Trotz said he believed the unit’s slow offensive start may have been caused, in part, by having new players (Connolly, Eller and Sanford) who are still getting settled and the simple fact that there are four players on the line, meaning there’s a rotation, which reduces reps and can negatively impact communication, continuity and chemistry.
Williams, though, indicated after the game that the line's chemistry is slowly revealing itself.
“We’re talking a little bit more,” he said. “We’re supporting a little bit more. We’re getting to know each other a little bit more.”
The question now is when will Sanford see the ice again? The third line is coming off its best game, and hockey coaches don’t like to make changes to a winning lineup. At the same time, Sanford, a 21-year-old first year pro, needs to play.
It’s not an issue yet. But it’s something that will bear watching in the coming days and weeks.
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