Over the weekend at the Washington Capitals’ Arlington practice facility, Jason Chimera sprayed water around the dressing room after his group won a scrimmage in a shootout. It was all in jest, as though they had won the Stanley Cup, but it’s the kind of thing that teammates have come to expect from the jovial veteran, who is on pace for a career-best season.
Through the first third of the 2011-12 campaign, Chimera is tied for the team lead in goals (11), second in plus-minus rating (plus-9) and sixth in points (17). The Edmonton native is on pace for 32 goals this season, which would nearly double his previous career high of 17 that he set back in 2007-08 as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Honestly, I don’t think anyone would say they thought I’d have 11 goals right now,” said Chimera, 32. “But I think I always had it in me; it’s nice to see it with some consistency. I feel the best that I think I ever have in the NHL, as far as making plays and feeling as though I can contribute.”
In a season with a sloppy beginning for the Capitals, Chimera has been a constant source of energy — both before and after Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau as head coach — as he found the finishing touch to complement his speed as a member of the team’s checking line.
Given his place as more of a role player in Washington’s lineup, having a regular — and important — duty of thwarting some of the league’s most potent offensive lines, along with common teammates — he’s been on a line with Brooks Laich and Joel Ward the majority of the season — has allowed him to build confidence.
“You come to work, you’re ready for each game and you’re up for each game because you know the task that’s put out for you,” Chimera said. “I think my role has been a little more defined.”
Chimera, who will earn $1.875 million this season, signed a two-year contract extension in September worth $3.5 million. Many have wondered if he should have waited to sign the deal, given his hot start this season. But Chimera is earnest when he says Washington is the best place for him on the ice and for his family; he and his wife Sarah have two children younger than the age of 4.
Which is good for the Capitals, who benefit from his persistently upbeat attitude in the dressing room and the work ethic that accompanies it on the ice.
“He might be on Mountain Dew 24 hours a day,” Ward joked. “He’s always on. . . . Some days when you think you might be a little off, a little tired, he’s still got that gear that he can crank right up. He’s fun to play with and he poses a threat every time he’s out there. When he’s playing with confidence you get out there and you can tell he just wants the puck.”
An increase in ice time has accompanied Chimera’s exploits; he is averaging 14 minutes 26 seconds per game, more than what he’s regularly seen each of the previous two seasons in Washington. But one of the most noticeable adjustments to Chimera’s game since Hunter took over on Nov. 28 has been to work the 6-foot-3, 213-pound winger into the fold on the power play.
Chimera is Hunter’s style of player: a big forward, able to use size to his advantage, never hesitant to drive the net and more than content to score opportunistic, ugly goals in front. Those traits are an asset to the power play and so, in six games under Hunter, Chimera has seen 9:53 of time on the man advantage compared to the 7:13 he saw with the unit in 22 contests under Boudreau.
“That’s something he earned,” assistant coach Dean Evason said. “You get a guy that’s leading your team in scoring, he should have the opportunity to play on the power play. When Dale arrived he recognized that . . . Dale’s a guy on the power play that he wants you to score from that dirty area and you don’t necessarily score those pretty goals often. Chimmer goes to the net and battles, so you put him in that position to succeed so the group can succeed.”
Capitals note: Mike Green is seeing a specialist about the strained right groin muscle that has kept him out of the lineup since Nov. 11. The defenseman has missed 14 consecutive games with the injury but he is expected to join the Capitals on their road trip later this week, Hunter said.