Lars Eller weaved through the center of the ice, drifted toward the right slot and, after dragging the puck behind him for a split second, fired a shot through the legs of Vancouver Canucks defenseman Ben Hutton and into the net.
The goal came in the first period of the Capitals’ 3-1 win over the Canucks on Tuesday night, and it was Eller’s flashiest play in a season that can otherwise be defined by the center’s consistency and adaptability. Eller has 12 assists in 42 games — his career-high for assists is 22 — and has netted seven goals while playing with a variety of wingers that have included T.J. Oshie, Devante Smith-Pelly, Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, Brett Connolly, Alex Chiasson and Chandler Stephenson. Eller centered a line of Connolly and Oshie in Tuesday night’s win. He is expected to center a line of Burakovsky and Oshie against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena on Thursday night.
On Thursday morning, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz swapped Chiasson, who was scratched Tuesday, back into the lineup on the fourth line. Connolly is expected to be scratched Thursday night as Trotz continues to rotate forwards ahead of an odd part of the schedule that includes the team’s bye week and the all-star break.
“I think so,” Eller said when asked whether there is something about his game that makes him able to thrive with a bunch of different forwards. “But I also think we have a really deep team with a lot of good players. So no matter who, I end up with really good players. But I like to think I can be equally effective no matter who I play with.”
And why is that?
“I’m probably not the guy to evaluate that,” he answered, which fits with Eller’s general aversion to talking about himself.
The 28-year-0ld is in his second year with the Capitals, and he said he has felt increasingly more comfortable since two Christmases ago. Since then, after what he called a bumpy start to his tenure with the Capitals, Eller was the center for a reliable third line (Burakovsky, him and Connolly) at the end of last season, and now is providing consistent offense in a pivotal year of his career.
Eller is nearing the end of a four-year, $14 million deal he signed while he was with the Montreal Canadiens. It is his second contract year of his career, and he feels more settled this time.
“I’ve already been through that once, and I think I learned a lot from that last time,” Eller said, and he added that he probably thought about it too much earlier in his career. “This year, I don’t really have any worries. Just having fun. Things are going pretty good, too, and the team is going good, too. There’s no reason to think about it. I’m aware of it, but it’s not a worry.”
After Eller netted that goal through Hutton’s legs, Capital One Arena blared Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger.” Capitals players started calling Eller “Tiger” after a team-building activity last season, the center said, but he doesn’t want to reveal any more than that about the nickname.
“That’s all I have to say about Tiger,” he said through an unassuming smile. “Just Tiger.”
Capitals unhappy with Carlson’s All-Star snub
The NHL announced Wednesday that Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will join Alex Ovechkin and Trotz at the All-Star Game in Tampa at the end of January. Defenseman John Carlson, who has the second-most points (34, with five goals and 29 assists) among all NHL defensemen, was noticeably left off the Metropolitan Division’s roster.
“I was supremely disappointed about Carlson,” Trotz said Thursday morning. “I think it’s a crime that he didn’t make it. I’m not in the selection process, but I know he’s been one of the best defensemen. I know how much he has meant to us as a group, especially with [Matt Niskanen] out earlier in the year and how many minutes he had to play. Playing with pure rookies on the back end and helping them along, I just think he should have been there. I’m biased, obviously. I see him night in and night out, but I truly believe he should be in that group.”
Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik shared his thoughts on the selection process when asked about Carlson, who has never been named an All-Star in his nine-year career and is averaging 26:20 of ice time. The Metro Division defensemen selected were the Hurricanes’ Noah Hanifin, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Seth Jones and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang.
“I wouldn’t put much value in the All-Star Game selections,” Orpik said. “[Nicklas] Backstrom has played in one, I think, so that tells you enough about the selection process for that. So I’m not going to get too much into whether certain guys should be there. Selfishly speaking, I’m glad [Carlson] is not going, so he gets some extra rest with the amount of minutes he’s been playing this year.”
Here is how the Capitals are expected to look against the Hurricanes on Thursday night in Capital One Arena:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Scratched: Brett Connolly
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Madison Bowey
Scratched: Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby (starter)
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