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Justin Williams: ‘It’s been certainly a tough start to the year for me’

Panthers right winger Reilly Smith reaches for the puck with Justin Williams in pursuit. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

With just one goal and one assist this season, Justin Williams has arrived for recent practices about 30 minutes early in order to work on his shot. On Tuesday night at Verizon Center, it seemed the extra time would pay off: Williams put four shots on goal, many from close range.

But in a losing locker room after the game, Williams had still not found the score sheet, despite his numerous chances.

“Yeah, don’t remind me,” he told a reporter.

Williams, who had 20 goals and 32 assists last season, has primarily skated with the top-six forwards corps this season; Tuesday night he was on a line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson. He is one of Washington’s better presences in front of the net, but he hasn’t been rewarded for it.

“It’s been certainly a tough start to the year for me with regards to offense,” Williams said. “But I’m going to keep working at it. Obviously, it’s all fine and dandy when you’re winning games, as we have, but when you’re losing, it obviously is glaring, soI’m doing my best to work hard and try to find the back of the net because I know this team needs me to do that.”

Williams’s even-strength shots per 60 is down from 8.95 last season — which was second on the team to Alex Ovechkin — to 6.36, ninth. He’s taken four shots in a game only twice; the first was against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 20, the most recent time he scored. A strong puck-possession player over his career, Williams has continued that trend this season, with the shot attempts tilted in favor of the Capitals when he’s been on the ice.

The 35-year-old signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal before last season, so this represents a contract year for him.

“Stick has been playing really good,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “I think he’s trying to drive whatever line he’s on. He’s playing that real grind game, where he’s going to the front of the net and doing all of the things that you want Justin to do. Keep doing them, and it’ll start going into the net for us.”

Said Williams: “Sometimes, they go in, and sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, you have a great opportunity and you’re not able to capitalize, and another time you might throw a puck at the net and it might go off someone’s butt and in the net. I’m going to keep working at it and working at it, and I know it will come.”