As much as it hurt Jay Beagle to head home early once again, the Caps’ fourth line center was proud of one thing as he walked out of Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week: At 31 years old, he had enjoyed his most productive season in 2016-17.
Consider Beagle’s numbers:
- Most games (in a full NHL season): 81.
- Most goals: 13 (including an overtime winnner).
- Most points: 30.
- Best plus/minus: plus-20.
- Most face-offs taken and won. 1,106 and 624, respectively.
- Most blocked shots: 44.
Beagle also led the Caps in face-off win percentage at 56.4, a figure that ranked ninth in the league among players who took at least 1,000 draws.
The reason for the uptick in Beagle’s production was likely twofold: No. 1, he worked harder last offseason on his stick skills and No. 2, he managed to stay relatively healthy during the grueling seven month regular season—something that had previously proved to be a challenge given his all-out style of play. He had averaged just 60 games the previous three seasons.
“I’ve never felt better, actually,” Beagle said recently, asked about speculation that he was dealing with an injury late in the season.
The only game he missed, in fact, was due to illness (vs. Ottawa in January).
“The body felt good,” Beagle said. “I had little bumps and bruises along the way, but the medical staff did an unreal job of keeping everyone pretty healthy. I was healthy all year. I felt my best almost all year. That’s why I had the season that I had. I don’t think I’ve played that many games without being out so I think that contributed [to the stats].”
But as Beagle spoke to the media on breakdown day, he had the same sinking sensation that most of his teammates felt. He felt that he could have done more individually (he had no points in 13 postseason games). He knew that the regular season's best team had let a prime opportunity slip. He also knew that the locker room he returns to in September will feature a retooled cast of characters.
“It’s awful that this group probably won’t be back together again, just with the people who are up,” Beagle said, referring to the team’s five unrestricted free agents and six restricted free agents.
Beagle, who has another year at $1.75 million on his contract, added: “It’s obviously tough, knowing that this group that has been so successful in the regular season and is such a great group to come to the rink with…I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team with such good chemistry and had as much fun as we did together.”
Beagle also noted this year’s loss to the Penguins was harder to stomach because, unlike 2016, he felt that these Caps had a legitimate chance to beat Pittsburgh and win the Cup.
“This is hard to take,” he said. “This, for me, is way harder than last year. Just the way it went. I just felt that last year Pitt came at us [in 2016] and, at that point in the year, was the best team. They just came at us in waves. [This year] I thought we outplayed them a lot…and [yet] they’re still playing.”
Beagle acknowledged that he’s wondered if the two late goals the Penguins scored in Game 6 gave them life.
“Did they kinda set [themselves] up for Game 7?” he asked.
The end of Game 6, though, wasn't nearly as big of a concern for Beagle as the end as Game 7.
“It’s still a struggle,” he said, asked about going out so meekly in a decisive contest. “I mean, how does that happen? I don’t know.”