The walk to elementary school is just a few blocks, short enough for the Chimera family to trek together every morning, rain or shine. It begins with Jason, the father, strapping his two young children, son Cale and daughter Ryann, into their backpacks and always ends with two hugs, two kisses and one piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to ask good questions. In the happiest moments, Jason Chimera quickly realized, this tradition became the perfect jolt before another day at work. In tougher times, it acted as a balm.
“It’s a job and it’s a business, and sometimes for whatever reason things don’t work out as well as they should,” the Washington Capitals forward said. “But it’s nice to have that support network. They love you no matter what. Just makes your day that much better going to the rink right away.”
Now 12 seasons into his NHL career, Chimera had never crammed such emotional swings into one year like his first tour under Coach Barry Trotz. There were the dregs of early in the season, when Chimera stewed over a 13-game goal drought, clashed with Trotz and was a late-December scratch that was documented for posterity by Epix cameras filming an all-access Winter Classic show.
Another 20 games passed in February and March without Chimera finding the net, more frustration for the Capitals’ oldest player, until finally something clicked. His relationship with Trotz improved, and his ice time stabilized. By the time the Capitals’ postseason run ended in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Chimera had thrived on a new line centered by rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov, ranking fourth on the team with seven playoff points. It was, he said later, an abrupt transition from “the most frustrating part of my career to the most rewarding part.”
Remember the advice Chimera gave his children before school? He admitted he would have been well served asking more questions when his relationship with Trotz sailed into choppy waters. In mid-December, Trotz made Chimera the latest among several healthy veterans shelved in the press box, a relegation Chimera at the time called “embarrassing.”
Publicly, he promised to learn from the first such benching of his career, citing his family as a source of comfort. Trotz, for his part, cautioned reporters against reading into the move. But behind the scenes, tensions were bubbling. Later, Chimera compared the situation to a married couple that needed counseling.
“Maybe we were both stubborn at times and set in our ways,” Chimera said recently. “Eventually you look in the mirror and say, maybe what he’s preaching is good. Do what he says.”
At the heart of their issues, ice time thumped loudest. Under Trotz, Chimera clocked 10 or fewer minutes in 12 separate games, only one fewer than over his past four seasons combined, and averaged his lowest total in a non-lockout year since 2005-06. Trotz believed Chimera needed to prove himself under the new regime and justify deployment. Reflecting once the storm had passed, Chimera thought he “deserved stuff more than earning it.”
“We didn’t understand what I was all about when I first got here,” Trotz said. “We maybe got off on a rougher relationship than probably we want. But there were certain things I felt he needed to do, and he changed. . . . Jason has to be the leader; he has to be the detailed guy. He has so many good qualities. They’ve just got to be focused in the right area all the time.”
Eventually, Chimera said, change began from within. He and his wife talked several times about enjoying work because even the gregarious jokester, known to photobomb interviews or playfully and loudly imitate team reporter Mike Vogel mid-video, had at times found the joy fading.
But what was the expression often heard around the league? That there are no bad days in the NHL? This still rang true. He just needed a reminder.
“If you’re not enjoying coming to the rink, what the [heck’s] wrong with you?” Chimera said. “Come and enjoy it . . . . It was a total 180. It’s good. It’s self-reassuring that you still can do it. He had an open mind, too. We weren’t both closed-minded about it. We opened our minds and saw what each other brings, and that was great.”
“A hell of a player,” Trotz called Chimera on breakdown day, once the foundation had been laid for a second year together. The offseason additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams likely mean that Chimera will spend the season in the bottom six while anchoring the penalty kill. He might play eight minutes one night and 18 the next. He remembered telling his wife how he arrived at training camp feeling “two times better already,” his relationship with Trotz “night and day.”
“I was fully expecting they were going to get me out of here, the way things were going,” Chimera said. “It’s one of those things, you want to be there for it. If you win with these guys, it’s going to be awesome because it’ll be such a great feeling, because we’ve been through a lot together and we’re right there. You can feel it.”
The Capitals beat the New York Islanders, 3-1, in a preseason game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Monday night.
Sean Collins scored Washington’s first goal in the second period when Carter Camper had a breakaway and Collins put back the rebound. Andre Burakovsky gave the Capitals a two-goal cushion with a power-play goal in the third period that was assisted by Tom Wilson and Derek Roy. Karl Alzner scored an empty-net goal late in the third period.
In the competition for the backup goaltender role, Philipp Grubauer played the first period and half of the second period, splitting time evenly with Justin Peters. Grubauer saved all 13 shots he saw, while Peters allowed a goal with less than two minutes left in the game after the Islanders had pulled their goalie.