MONTREAL — As the Washington Capitals skated onto the ice at Bell Sports Complex on Sunday afternoon, Lars Eller was hit with a sense of deja vu. For six seasons with the Canadiens, he practiced at this facility in suburban Montreal, and for the first time since he was traded to Washington, he was back.
More old memories will be stirred on Monday night, when Eller and the Capitals play at the Bell Centre for the first time this season. Eller will be hoping for a different result than the first meeting between Washington and Montreal, as the Canadiens got the 2-1 win at Verizon Center.
“It’s going to be special,” Eller said. “I’m excited, in a good way, and I’m very motivated. . . . I think every player that’s been traded from somewhere wants to beat your old team. I think that’s pretty natural, whoever you’re going to ask about that.”
Montreal traded Eller to Washington on the first day of the NHL Draft in June in exchange for two future second-round picks. For the Capitals, the acquisition filled a need at third-line center, a position at which Washington had hoped to get more offense. For Eller, the news stung at first. “A lot of mixed emotions,” he said. But then the promise of a consistent role with a talented team had him looking forward to a change.
“Obviously, you’re leaving something behind, a place you expected to be,” Eller said. “I don’t regret anything. I was really happy, happy to be here. I wish we would have won a cup, obviously, while I was here. I would’ve liked to experience that. But I’m really, really happy in Washington, and I was excited to go there when I found out.”
Eller’s point production has been slow in the first half of the season, as his three goals and four assists through 38 games have him on pace for a pretty dramatic drop from a season ago, when he scored 13 goals with 13 assists in 79 games. But the Capitals have been pleased with Eller’s play, especially lately when he’s had consistent linemates for the first time all season. With Eller centering Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, the Capitals’ third line has displayed strong puck possession with a 64.37 Corsi-for percentage, according to Corsica.hockey, and is chipping in more consistently.
“He’s been really good,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Players, usually, when they change organizations, they either have a real hot start, cool off, or it takes a while to acclimatize to the new environment. I think Lars was a little bit slower to get into what we do and understand what we’re doing. Now, he’s feeling very comfortable, and he’s playing very, very good for us. I love the way he’s playing. Right now, he’s been a little snakebit in terms of the production, but his overall game is really strong right now. I didn’t realize how big and strong and actually how talented he really is.”
While Eller has moved on to a new chapter in his career, there are still pleasant memories of the old one.
“I miss playing games at the Bell Centre,” Eller said. “It’s a great building to play in. That hockey atmosphere that comes with playing here, especially playoff games and stuff like that, that’s memories that stick with you.”