The final minute of Washington’s 4-1 win over Nashville was ticking away when the Capitals got one last power-play opportunity. But
rather than send out after sending out Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and his other usual goal scorers, Coach Barry Trotz elected to use his fourth line. This was a reward for an evening in which their production finally matched their play on the ice, and the gesture did not go unnoticed by forward Daniel Winnik.
Though the bruising 31-year-old failed to net his first hat trick, Winnik left Verizon Center with a smile on his face. On Friday, he scored his first two goals since being acquired by the Capitals during a trade-deadline deal last month. In fact, it was the first time he had scored since Feb. 2 and the drought had begun to weigh on him.
“It’s been awhile since I scored even before I came here,” Winnik said. “So it’s just nice to kind of get that monkey off the back and hopefully get some more offense heading into the postseason.”
Despite his modest contributions thus far, Winnik could be a key piece as Washington heads towards the Stanley Cup playoffs and Trotz was happy to see him have some tangible success against the Predators.
Winnik’s first goal was the game’s equalizer, less than eight minutes into the second period. Goalie Braden Holtby found center Evgeny Kuznetsov with a long pass along the boards during a slow Nashville line change; Kuznetsov collected the puck and quickly found Winnik streaking backdoor by faking a slap shot and firing a pass. Predators goalie Carter Hutton had no chance as Winnik’s shot sailed into the back of the net.
Winnik then gave Washington a commanding 3-1 lead heading into the third period, when he was again the beneficiary of a great individual play by one of Washington’s emerging Russians. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov skated through the entire neutral zone during the final minute of the second period and dished off to Winnik upon entering the offensive zone. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound wing did the rest, flicking a wrist shot from long range past Hutton to give Washington even more momentum with just 18 seconds left on the clock.
Though this wasn’t the prettiest goal, it will go down as Winnik’s 200th NHL point and Trotz knew it might mean much more for his fourth line when the Capitals play in games with far greater stakes in the coming weeks.
Since acquiring Winnik and defenseman Mike Weber last month, Trotz has tried to integrate them into the lineup without disrupting the team’s overwhelming success this year. That meant inserting Winnik onto an already effective fourth line. But Trotz also wanted more offense from that trio, in addition to shutting opponents down and grinding out possession, and he finally got some Friday when Winnik finished with his first multi-goal game since Jan. 21, 2013
“It was really good to see them get some production,” Trotz said. “I know Daniel has gotten some good production in the past and our depth is going to be key. When we get in the playoffs and you get those top lines nullifying each other, the difference sometimes are those unsung heroes [that] when you look at their regular season total, there isn’t a whole lot of maybe big-time production. But in the playoffs, there have been guys that have upped their game and their production and scored big time goals.”