Most coaches are loathe to change their lineup when their team is playing well. Yet, even after winning two games with Brett Connolly on the third line, head coach Barry Trotz elected to move Zach Sanford back in for Saturday’s game against the New York Rangers.
“I just try and give them a couple games when I do pull them out so that they can get maybe a little traction,” Trotz said. “[Sanford and Connolly] have been playing well. I want to keep everybody a part of that. We'll just continue to do that. I want to get Zach in.”
As a 21-year-old rookie, getting Sanford consistent playing time is important for his development. Any player making the jump from college hockey right to the NHL, however, is bound to have some growing pains.
“Talking to a lot of guys, that Pittsburgh game was faster than some of the playoff games even,” Sanford said. “That was a tough game to step into, but you even start to notice it after a couple shifts, you get going and you get used to the pace a little bit more.”
Sanford admitted to feeling frustrated after his first two games. When a young player reaches that point, spending a few nights in the press box observing the game can be a valuable learning experience.
“It's definitely good to watch from up there and some other spots and kind of see the game at a slower pace and be able to pick up on those little things” he said. “I actually watched the game at home in the video room which was cool. A bunch of different angles and coaches radioing in, you kind of figure out what they think works and what doesn't. Just to be able to see those replays and hear other guys talk about it is definitely good to learn.”
But there’s still no substitute for game experience.
Sanford gets back into the lineup Saturday as the Capitals host the New York Rangers. After spending the last few games watching the action, the young forward has some goals for how he hopes to play.
“I want to be able to make more plays, be a little more patient with the puck instead of forcing a play or just dumping it in. I think that's a big part of my game is being able to slow down, be patient and make plays. I think first few games was getting comfortable and picking up the speed and what works and what doesn't work, but I think now that I'm a little more comfortable I'll be able to slow down and make some more plays.”
Daniel Winnik acknowledged on Saturday that he was fortunate to have avoided serious facial and/or head injuries when he was struck with a slap shot Thursday night.
Winnik’s ear, which was originally described as “missing a piece”, is actually in decent shape. In fact, there’s no visible damage or scar. Trainers, he said, used glue to close up a small laceration.
“No visible missing piece,” Winnik chuckled. “The puck hit basically half ear [or] maybe a little more ear than helmet. Very fortunate it wasn’t way worse. … When it hit me, I was like s***, this could have been a lot worse. I don’t know you if guys have ever been in the freezing cold playing around and then you get smacked in the ear. It's like that stinging, tingling, numb. That’s pretty much what it felt like for five, 10 minutes or so.”
Coach Barry Trotz echoed Winnik’s sentiments. He also took the blame for making the injury sound a lot worse than it actually was.
“It wasn’t as bad as it was first reported,” Trotz said jokingly. “Anytime you get hit in the ear with a puck, it’s going to get chewed up. I really didn’t see it before, but it’s not as bad as quoted…by me.”
Winnik also said there were no concussion concerns.
“That was probably the biggest thing I dodged, was that I didn’t have a concussion,” he said.
The Capitals fourth liner added: “It was hard to eat after the game, as well. Even opening my mouth [hurt]. When [Marcus Johansson] scored and I got up, I and gave a big, ‘Yeah.’ Then I was like, ‘Ouch, crap.’”
The injury occurred midway through the third period of the Capitals’ 4-2 win in South Florida as the visitors attempted to kill off a penalty. Winnik went down to block Reilly Smith’s point shot, but ended up getting a lot more than he bargained for.
“I was trying to block it,” Winnik explained. “Then he drags it around me and then, when he was kinda past me, I knew I had to turn my head or else it could have been a lot worse. If I didn’t turn my head, then it’s probably hitting me in the jaw or something.”
Winnik said the close call will not change his attitude on visors and/or ear protection. He’s the only Capitals player who doesn’t wear a visor. He also does not don the plastic ear tab that comes with the helmet.
“My face has been banged up a lot over the years and I still haven’t worn a visor,” he said. “I’ve probably broken my nose like 15 times or something. I just can’t wear it.”
Asked if his wife, Taylor, has urged him to wear the visor or ear tab, Winnik said: “No, she’s fine with it. We both know whenever my playing days are done I’m going to need some facial surgeries somewhere along the way.”
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