Midway through the NHL season, no team has been better than the Washington Capitals. They have five more points than the second-place Dallas Stars and are in the midst of an 8-1-1 stretch. Alex Ovechkin just scored his 500th (and 501st goal), Nicklas Backstrom is finally an All-Star and Braden Holtby is having a Vezina-caliber season.
With all that has been going on in Washington, it’s not too surprising that Justin Williams’ production has been an overlooked part of the team’s success.
He was brought in to make a difference in the playoffs. The Capitals haven’t made it to the Eastern Conference final during the Ovechkin era and they’ve been eliminated in Game 7 three times over the last four years. Inking “Mr. Game 7” himself to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million made sense for that reason alone, and the signing has been heralded for being a great value for the Capitals.
Before deciding to sign with Washington, he told Jon Rosen of LAKingsinsider.com that “I’m at a point in my career where it’s not all about money, it’s about winning for me.”
The Capitals have only lost seven games, ironically, so far this season, and are making a hard charge at the Presidents’ Trophy thanks in large part to a balanced scoring attack. If winning is what Williams wants to do, he picked the right team to do it with.
Only the Stars have scored more goals than the Capitals this season, and Washington is one of only three squads to average more than three tallies per contest. A year ago the organization had a noticeable weakness on right wing, and they addressed that by adding both T.J. Oshie and Williams. That has taken their offense to another level entirely.
The former has been lining up with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the top unit, while Williams has been playing on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s right side for much of the year. Fitting in with a new team in a new conference while trying to learn fresh systems can be difficult, but the 34-year-old hasn’t struggled.
He has 13 goals and 27 points, good for 53rd and 79th in the NHL, respectively. Those aren’t Ovechkin-like numbers, but the Capitals don’t need Williams to produce at ridiculous rates. With scoring down across the league, every bit of depth helps, and the three-time Stanley Cup winner is providing the Capitals with a lot of value.
Williams is pushing the league’s top-50 point producers, which is tremendous given his $3.25 million cap hit. Some pundits and fans seemed to worry that the Capitals added the wing solely because of his tendency to be clutch in big games, but he’s been among the team’s top-six since arriving.
Others were worried that the veteran may not have a lot of gas left in the tank. He’s played a ton of playoff hockey over the last four seasons with L.A. (outside of last year’s odd postseason miss for the Kings), and forwards aren’t typically at their peak at 34. Williams has answered those doubters as well though, producing at a similar clip to what he managed in Los Angeles during his time there.
He averaged 0.62 points per game during his time with the Kings, and he’s sitting at 0.64 points per game this season.
More important than Williams’ Game 7 acumen and scoring rates has been his ability to drive play for the Capitals. The top line tends to hang onto the puck more often than not, and having a second line that can post similar possession numbers has been huge for Washington. He’s not the possession monster he was in 2012-13, but Williams is still driving play for the Capitals.
They won their fourth consecutive game Sunday, downing the Ottawa Senators 7-1. Williams notched a goal and an assist in the contest, breaking a four-game pointless drought. It was the first time all season that he had failed to hit the score sheet in more than three consecutive games, making him one of Washington’s more steady options outside of the top line.
Prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, it would have been fair to characterize the Williams contract as a bit of an experiment in Washington. They need scoring punch in the playoffs and the deal was of the low-risk, high-reward variety. He has made Brian MacLellan look good so far though, and has provided a nice boost on the offensive side of things while driving play in all three zones.