In the midst of their stellar first period Sunday against the Maple Leafs, the Capitals found a reason for optimism beyond the three-goal outburst that eventually carried them to victory. The source was forward Dustin Penner, acquired from the Ducks on March 4, who’d been a relative non-factor in his first six games with Washington despite being featured on Anaheim’s high-powered first line for much of the season.
Sunday didn’t look like the day Penner would settle in, as Adam Oates dropped him to Washington’s fourth line as he shuffled the trios in response to Brooks Laich’s injury and the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov. But Penner slid in to the Capitals’ second power-play unit, where he found himself receiving a pass from Kuznetsov to the side of the Toronto net. He turned and threaded a beautiful back-handed pass to Joel Ward, who found plenty of space on the opposite post and buried Washington’s third goal.
Penner scored 13 goals and 32 points in 49 games with Anaheim before the trade, but his assist on Sunday was his first point with the Capitals. He looked comfortable Sunday as part of an energetic effort from the Capitals’ fourth line, but may face further changes in linemates due to what looks to be a prolonged absence for Brooks Laich, who’s missed three of the Caps’ last six games with a groin injury and will not travel with the team to California.
“We’ll have to count on him more” without Laich, Oates said. “He made a great play on the goal, and going out west, he’s played for two of those teams, won Cups with two of those teams [Ducks in 2007, Kings in 2012], so hopefully he’ll get a little spark. I thought he played a good game tonight. He’s still new to our team, fitting in, and hopefully he can continue to grow.”
Check out Penner’s first Caps point here: