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With mind and body in a better place, Daniel Winnik is on best goal-scoring pace of his career

Daniel Winnik (26), shown earlier this month, has a team-best 26.7 percent shooting percentage. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

BUFFALO — As Daniel Winnik untied the laces of his skates after the Washington Capitals’ morning skate on Friday, he considered why his best goals-per-game ratio has come this season, his 10th with his seventh organization.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You look at the stats, high shooting percentage?”

With a team-best 26.7 shooting percentage, Winnik has four goals in 18 games, which ranks sixth on the Capitals and has him on pace for a career-high (11, set twice). What’s surprising is that the production has come in a season when he’s been an occasional healthy scratch as a fourth-liner and had his penalty-killing role reduced for a stretch of games, his role in the lineup far from secure in a contract year.

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Perhaps it’s because one of the many things Winnik worked on with a sports psychologist this summer was keeping his cool, something that’s helped him stay ready when he has gotten opportunities this season.

“Maybe I’m just a little calmer when I’m in a scoring position,” he said.

Winnik also credited better health, as he said he played with a high ankle sprain all of last season. Winnik played in 76 games last year, and he scored six games with 13 assists. He played in every game after he was traded to Washington at the trade deadline in February, and while Winnik said he got his ankle “fixed” this summer, he added that it didn’t require surgery.

Upon joining the Capitals last season, Winnik was one of the team’s top penalty killers. But the Capitals allowed five power-play goals in their first six games this year, and then Winnik was scratched for four straight games. Winnik had been killing with Jay Beagle, the two taking on the most shorthanded minutes among forwards to start the season.

But without Winnik in the lineup, Washington’s penalty kill didn’t give up a single power-play goal in those four games he was scratched, and Coach Barry Trotz said it was a coaching decision to reduce Winnik’s penalty-kill roll when he did play again. With T.J. Oshie missing seven games because of a shoulder injury, Winnik’s shorthanded time increased, and even with Oshie playing again, Winnik has been one of the first forwards over the boards for a penalty kill.

“It’s hard when you’re not on one of the two special teams because then you’re missing out on some ice time and ways to stay in the game,” Winnik said. “It was unfortunate I was taken off the penalty kill, but happy to be back there.”

Said Trotz: “I think even with Osh, Osh is a real good penalty killer, but at the same time, I still need him for the offensive part of the game, so just managing those minutes. Osh plays more minutes five-on-five, he plays power play. If I can manage his minutes by limiting the PK stuff, just like we do with Backy, then that’s a good thing to keep out guys a little fresher for the offensive part of the game.”

Winnik said he’s always been encouraged to shoot more. It’s unlikely Winnik’s high shooting percentage is sustainable, but while it’s up there, perhaps he’ll be able to take advantage.

“Maybe they’re right on that, but I’ve always been a pass-first guy, maybe because I was a center growing up my whole life,” Winnik said. “I’m used to distributing, and I think as a winger you’re looked on more to shoot more. It’s still something I need to work on.”

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