“I wish I knew, because if not I’d have pretty good offensive production throughout the year if I had the same thing after Christmas,” Hagelin said with a laugh. “It’s a good question. I’ve been trying to find it, work on it every day.”
Hagelin’s struggling starts were most noticeable from 2014 onward, when he played at least 30 games before Christmas from 2014 to 2017. In that four-year span — playing for three teams — Hagelin averaged 3.75 goals and 5.75 assists before Christmas. Hagelin finished the season with at least 10 goals in three of those four years and tallied at least 16 assists in all four.
But Sunday night in the Capitals’ 5-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center, Hagelin had his best game of the season with two assists and dominant play on the penalty kill during the team’s 10th game of the season.
Earlier in the day, Capitals Coach Todd Reirden talked about Hagelin’s history of getting better as the season goes on, and how he expected the switch to come soon enough. After starting the season on the third line, Hagelin was bumped up to the second, playing alongside center Evgeny Kuznetsov and forward Tom Wilson ahead of the team’s home win over Toronto on Wednesday.
So far, the switch has benefited all four lines, with the Capitals riding a three-game winning streak since the shuffle. Hagelin had zero points before the switch, but now he has four assists in his past three games while still looking for his first goal.
Reirden believed the switch would enable Hagelin to get the puck in more scoring areas, particularly playing with Kuznetsov and Wilson. Hagelin said he wants to be “more selfish” with his game, and that means using a mix of skating and finding open areas on the ice to be creative when he has the puck.
“Offensively I want to produce more,” Hagelin said before the team’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday. “Some games I’ve gotten good looks, but it hasn’t been every game, so I have to step up there and hold onto more pucks and just create more chances on my own, I think. That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m using my speed to create chances for myself and hold onto pucks, and a lot of things usually open up when you do that.”
Against Chicago, Hagelin assisted on Nic Dowd’s shorthanded goal in the second period and on Wilson’s game-winner in the third. Hagelin’s penalty-killing prowess helped Washington hold off the Blackhawks on five power plays.
His assist to Dowd came after a broken stick turned the game into a brief four on four, and Hagelin’s aggressive play let him get to the puck after a turnover by Patrick Kane. A few seconds later, he and Dowd were on a two-on-one shorthanded rush.
“Hags, he’s a great player, a great all-around player,” Wilson said. “I saw it a lot from the other side when he was in Pittsburgh. He’s a clutch player. He goes out on the kills and gets it done. He is very smart. We are happy to have him on our side now and definitely finding some chemistry with him and he makes a great play on my goal as well.”
Aside from Hagelin’s play on the ice, Reirden has been leaning on him to become more of a leader in the Capitals’ dressing room this season. The winger can draw on his hockey IQ and vast experience with multiple NHL clubs.
Hagelin said there are always small things to pick up from each club, but mainly he likes to observe the intricate roles of each player on the team, not only focusing on the “big leaders.”
“My goal is to lead by example as well, and that’s what is important,” Hagelin said. “If you want to be successful, you want a lot of guys leading and not only old guys, but also young guys. For me it is my ninth year in the league, and I tried to take pride in being a guy who guys can look up to.”