In his 16-year NHL career, Justin Williams had endured slumps before, but this one tested even his patience. He admitted feeling frustrated, but he still got on the ice early before practice and occasionally stayed late to work on his shot, drafting the Capitals’ youngest players to join him. Hard work had helped Williams snap out of droughts before, so this wouldn’t be any different.
His recent hot streak has come with goals that follow the same principle, as Williams has wedged his way in front of the net, scoring by asserting his good position. His three-point night against the Toronto Maple Leafs followed that formula, his one goal deflecting in off his skate in front. After Williams started the season with two goals and two assists through 23 games, he has eight goals and seven assists in the past 14 games.
“He’s still got it,” Alex Ovechkin said.
“I hope so,” Williams said. “I’m still in the league. I need to.”
Tuesday’s game was a productive one for Washington’s second line of Williams, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Williams’s goal came on the power play in the first two minutes of the game. Then coming out of the penalty box, a stretch pass from T.J. Oshie set up a breakaway from Williams, but with Morgan Rielly applying back pressure, Williams dished the pack back to Oshie for the goal. In the third period, the Capitals’ second line was on the ice for two of the three goals as Washington rallied for the 6-5 overtime win.
“A little bit of hard work is paying off a little bit,” Williams said. “I’ve been getting some fortunate bounces lately, the one going off my skate today. It’s just kind of the way hockey goes sometimes. Sometimes, you feel you played great, you look at the score sheet and you have no points and you’re minus-two. Sometimes, it just works that way, and I’m happy to be contributing because I know this team needs me to do so.”
To start the season, Williams was second to just Ovechkin in five-on-five shots on goal, but his shooting percentage was abysmally low. That wasn’t sustainable, and the coaching staff was encouraged that Williams was getting the scoring chances even if he wasn’t finishing them. Williams decided to stay steadfast, refusing to change anything about the game that had gotten him this far. In the process, he became a fearsome net-front presence, as all but two of Williams’s eight goals in the past 14 games have come from within 15 feet of the net.
“Stick has been working hard all year,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s been a guy who has left nothing behind. Early in the season, he was not getting rewarded, and I always talk about those guys that if you keep doing the right things, you’re going to get rewarded. He’s one of those veteran players that you know he’s been through the wars. He knows how to not let the game chew him up when things aren’t going very well.
“He’s responded, and I think he’s getting rewarded for all of the good hard work he’s put in. Even when he wasn’t rewarded, I think you just stick with it. Sometimes, you’re not having success, if you change what you’re doing or get away from stuff or feel sorry for yourself, nothing good happens. I think a good lesson from that is he stuck with it, what he was doing.”