The Washington Capitals’ signing of Brett Connolly this summer was a relatively inexpensive move that had the chance to pay dividends. The team was hopeful Connolly would flash the offensive upside that made him the sixth-overall pick in the 2010 draft.
“I don’t know if it’s on Brett,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s probably on me more than it is Brett. I’ve got to give him the opportunity to play higher up in the lineup.”
With T.J. Oshie listed as week-to-week with an undisclosed upper-body injury, Connolly will have more of opportunities in offensive situations. In Tuesday’s practice, he was on a third line with center Jay Beagle and Zach Sanford. Oshie injury created a vacancy on Washington’s top power play, and Justin Williams has moved up from the second unit. That has created an opening for Connolly, who has been practicing on the second unit in the “diamond” position, which is the player primarily stationed in the slot.
“I’ve just got to get open and try to find some holes when I get an opportunity to play there,” Connolly said. “… If I get a puck in a good spot, I think I can beat a goalie with my shot. Just got to get open for those guys. Those guys are good players, they’ll find me.”
The addition of Connolly on the first day of free agency was considered to be another way to boost the team’s secondary scoring, as the Capitals thought of Connolly as someone skilled enough to be able to play high in the lineup. It was hoped that he would help spread the team’s top offensive weapons to multiple lines and make Washington a challenging team to match up against. But he started the season as a healthy scratch and has been in and out of the lineup.
“You’ve got to be patient,” Connolly said. “We’ve got a good team here. I knew that.”
When the Capitals had three forwards injured in the first period against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, Connolly got his first taste of being in an elevated role, playing beside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov for most of the game, and Trotz said he acquitted himself well there. But in Sunday’s game, a 3-2 loss to Columbus, Connolly took two penalties, the second of which the Blue Jackets scored on, and when asked about Connolly after the game, Trotz mentioned his displeasure with those infractions.
But Trotz also again said that it’s on him to put Connolly in more advantageous offensive situations, something that might be happening more with the Capitals depleted at the moment.
“I think he’s done some really good things just in the last few games and in practice and understanding and getting comfortable with us as an organization, us as coaches, teammates, all that,” Trotz said on Tuesday. “He’s going to get that opportunity and be able to do something with it. I wouldn’t put any emphasis on him not scoring because I really haven’t put him in a high-end role. At the same time, no matter what role you’re in, you want to contribute and contribute offensively because that’s been his strength through his career. I haven’t played him with, let’s say, a lot of the top-six guys, but I feel the guys he’s played with are capable of scoring.”