Photo: Rob Carr
Justin Williams wasn’t brought to Washington to be a pure goal scorer and point producer. But in his regular role on the second line and second power play unit, Williams has become one of the team’s best finishers in front of the net. Through 45 games, Williams has 16 goals, which ranks second on the team and 58th in the NHL. Williams is also on pace for 29 goals, which would be the most he’s scored since the 2006-07 season with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he scored a career high 33 at age 25.
On Sunday night, Williams had arguably his best game yet as a Capital, scoring his second career hat trick and his first since October 16, 2006 with the ‘Canes.
“It was a looooooong time ago,” Williams told reporters when asked if he remembered the last time he scored three goals.
Williams’s hat trick Sunday was due to a little bit of luck, a little bit of magic from his teammates, and a lot of hard work.
Williams’s first goal came on a strong carry by Andre Burakovsky into the offensive zone. The Burracuda found Taylor Chorney, who blasted a shot through traffic from the point. It was hard to see, but Williams deflected the shot past Antti Raanta.
Williams’s second goal must have been one of the easiest of his career. After Evgeny Kuznetsov gathered in a pass from Burakovsky, he slipped the puck through Dan Giraridi’s skates right to Williams. All the three-time Stanley Cup champion had to do was tap the puck home.
“It’s been pretty easy to play with linemates like that,” Williams said. “Sometimes you just go to the net with your stick on the ice and somehow [Kuznetsov] finds you.”
Finally, on Williams’s hat trick goal, he scored on an empty net, which the Rangers deflected in.
“I really didn’t score on goalie today,” said Williams. “Kuzy gave me a backdoor goal and scored an empty netter and then I had a tip-in.”
On top of the goals, Williams also showed off his slick forechecking ability.
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Williams has meant a lot to this Capitals team, both on and off the ice. Head coach Barry Trotz sung his praises after the game.
“He’s a gamer,” Trotz said. “It’s hard to explain to everyone else, but he engages the team on the bench, in the dressing room. As a coach, it brings a smile to your face. He gets people involved, makes them think hockey when they don’t even realize it.”
“I see why he’s won everywhere he’s gone,” the coach concluded. “Those [That’s] invaluable. There’s no stats to validate what that brings to your hockey team.”
Nevertheless, Williams has the numbers has well. The 34-year-old’s tallies led the way to Washington’s league-best 34th win of the season.
“We’re a very proud team,” Williams said. “We’re not used to losing and we don’t like it.”
Additional reporting by Chris Gordon.
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