Just what he needed. When absolutely nothing seemed to be going his way, and age seemed to be catching up, Justin Williams found his game against Boston.
In a season that could only be disappointing and frustrating so far, the veteran seemed to hone his skill set playing on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetzov. Through the first 24 games of the season, Williams had only notched two tallies, and couldn’t seem to catch a break or find the twine. As fans across Caps nation probably wondered where he had gone, he showed up in a game that’s more important than a lot may realize. The win against Buffalo was good enough to end the losing streak, but it was certainly not the display the Capitals want to be presenting on game nights.
What a time to break out of a slump. In the first 10 minutes of the game, JT lit the lamp twice, both in similar fashion. As (cringe) Pierre McGuire explained, his first was “dirty and greasy.” His second, from the same area, banging home a loose puck that ended up squirting through Tuukka Rask. He won loose pucks, and created extra zone time by winning board battles against a big Bruins club. Through the first 20 minutes, his fantastic ability to create offensive chances shined often, and it seemed to give the rest of the Capitals a needed boost. Offense has been hard to come by for the guys in red and white as of recent, but a reenergized team seemed to regain its most powerful asset with Williams’ wheels turning.
Within 3 minutes of the second, Williams had a phenomenal shift that created 2 or 3 chances for scoring. Although they didn’t cash in, it visually wore the opposing defense down. His edgework was sharp and his change of direction was quick, making it difficult to defend the attack. This is a sign of a player with confidence, something fans haven’t seen too often from him this year. Minutes later, Winnik took a gorgeous feed from Beagle to put the Caps up 3-0, a deflating goal for Boston. It’s no coincidence that when one of your veteran guys is burning and churning, others will follow suit. Through the first 30, the team had done so.
In the latter half of the second, when the game seemed to slow down a bit, Williams continued responsible and intelligent play. On a penalty kill, he had a brilliant poke check that essentially killed the rest of the disadvantage. Instead of making an attempt to drive the net, he chose to dump the puck at the perfect speed, eating up as much of the clock as possible. For most of the year, it would surprise nobody if he ended up on his rump on his second stride. It is refreshing to see those legs after a couple dozen games of looking like he was skating on oil.
Up 3, the Capitals managed to lose a commanding lead. One goal due to a fluky faceoff mishap, and the second being a result of an awful play by the struggling Evgeny Kuznetzov. Crunch time for the third, and for another push towards two points.
Braden Holtby bailed the home team out multiple times through the first quarter of the third frame, and the good guys were playing on their heels. The loss of Matt Niskanen earlier in the game from a board by Patrice Bergeron had left the defensive corps one important player short, and it began to show. It got even worse after Tom Wilson took a run at a Bruin mid-ice, leaving the Caps on the penalty kill without Jay Beagle as well. Oops. Tie game at 3-3. Another lead had come and gone for the Washington Capitals, after an all too familiar collapse. They continued to struggle against a hard charging Bruins team until they were semi-relieved by a break in play, and huddled between referees debating a delay of game call. In the following minutes, a tight game was played by both teams, almost as if not to make any mistakes. The timeclock wound down to zero, with overtime to follow. Sudden death. Could the Capitals redeem another breakdown?
Thank goodness. On a creative play from Marcus Johansson, Backstrom put the now anxiety ridden game to rest. Although the Capitals squandered what should have been a beat-down, there was still Justin Williams phenomenal game.
He established a solid and veteran presence, something the Caps have been missing lately. Caps fans should be hopeful that Williams can remain in the form he was against the Bruins, because it seems to (for the most part) revitalize a team that needs all the confidence it can get. His legs were moving, the passing was tape to tape, he was winning loose pucks, and driving the net. His work proved fruitful, and it’s a trend that will follow as long as that kind of play resumes.
By Brennan Reidy