The Washington Capitals take on the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center Thursday night. The game marks the Capitals’ first game since Sunday and their first in the state of Florida this season. It also marks the team’s first game against former teammate Brett Connolly.
Connolly left Washington over the summer after notching 22 goals, 24 assists, and 46 points — all career highs — from the Capitals’ third line. “He thanked me, and I thanked him,” Connolly told The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir of his exit interview with Brian MacLellan. “And we just kinda left it that.
“I knew, which kinda sucked.”
Weeks later, Connolly signed a four-year, $14 million deal with Florida on July 1, a deal too rich for the salary-cap strapped Capitals to match.
Connolly has lived up to his new contract a month into the season. He’s producing in a more challenging role, scoring 10 points for the Panthers in 14 games from the team’s second line. Connolly has been dominant at even strength tallying all five of his goals there, which ranks second-most on the team. He has nine even-strength points — third-most on the Panthers.
The right-wing is also receiving time on the Panthers’ second powerplay unit, skating nearly 23 minutes, sixth-most among all Florida forwards.
Connolly scored his first goal for the Panthers on October 14 in a 6-4 win over New Jersey. He scored twice on the night.
Wednesday, after the Capitals arrived in Sunrise, Connolly hosted around 10 of his former teammates at his new place because, as he surmised, he never really had an opportunity to properly say goodbye after the team’s first-round upset to the Carolina Hurricanes.
I “said a half-assed goodbye and then I’m gone,” Connolly said to El-Bashir.
Connolly finds himself close to many of his former teammates, not only because of the Stanley Cup run in 2018, but also because of his role on the team.
“Last season, we had an older team and I was kind of in the middle tier there of the guys where the young guys were comfortable coming to me for things and the older guys were comfortable coming to me as well,” Connolly said of his role on the Capitals’ last season to the Florida Panthers’ podcast. “I was talking to them and I was kind of the middleman on the team. It was kind of fun. I had a cool role there. I kind of just helped everybody out. I was comfortable talking to anyone and saying anything I wanted.”
Connolly said he and his wife Katrina really love the South Florida area. “We’re extremely happy,” Connolly said. But that doesn’t there aren’t parts of Conno that misses what he formerly had.
“It was incredible (playing in DC),” Connolly said. “It was something I’ll never forget. I’m so fortunate that I was able to make it to that group, that city. My game really took off from there. I owe a lot to that organization and those guys that I played with.”
More Connolly: “The fans were great to me for 3yrs there and really welcomed me and were good to me. I’ll miss it there for sure … It will be cool to go back there in Nov. and play there and see all the little things, security guards, and the people that work around the rink.”
— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) November 7, 2019
Connolly even recently felt his heartstrings pull when the Washington Nationals won its first World Series. He congratulated them on Twitter.
Congrats to the @Nationals !!!!!! Congrats D.C!!
— Brett Connolly (@bconnolly8) October 31, 2019
During his press conference with reporters on Thursday, Connolly noted to the Washington Post’s Samathana Pell that playing his former teammates would be weird, but added that “Once (Tom Wilson) hits me one time I think that’ll be it. Then it’ll be on so it’s going to be fun.”
Connolly said warmups/1st period will be weird tonight vs WSH, but then it should be a normal game.
"Once Willie hits me one time I think that’ll be it. Then it’ll be on so it's going to be fun.”
— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) November 7, 2019
Connolly, who was very close to Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly, still treasures what he was able to accomplish with Washington in 2018 when he lifted the Stanley Cup for the very first time in his career.
“The (Stanley Cup) run was so special,” Connolly said. “Every year is such a blur, day-today, moment-to-moment, and then you get to the Eastern Conference Finals – there’s really only four teams left – and at that point, you’re just giving everything you have. We found a way. We had such a close group of guys and such a good team. We had contributions from all over the lineup which was very fun. Everybody there that was in the lineup played a role in it and had their moment throughout the run, which was really cool. That year, for everybody that was in the lineup, is something that won’t be able to be taken away from those guys and the celebration was amazing. That summer was amazing.
“Especially for me as a kid who grew up in Canada, hockey has been my life forever,” Connolly added. “You grow up, you watch it every year. You can’t really explain it. That moment when we won, and the final buzzer went off in Vegas, it’s really just a blur and you get to celebrate with your families and your teammates who you’ve sacrificed so much for, you put your body on the line every night in those games. Those games are extremely hard. The sacrifices you make are pretty extreme. You can’t explain it. You have to live it. And I’m so happy that I got to do it. It made it better that the group was such a good group and the guys were so close. We had a great time celebrating that’s for sure.”
Now Connolly brings that Stanley Cup experience to a younger Panthers’ team.
“The experience I got through that run you have to experience it and you take it with you,” Connolly said. “We went through a lot. That group went through a lot in previous years. That group had been grinding and grinding to win the Cup and they did and I was a part of it. And I got to gain that experience and I did. You’re just more confident. Once the playoffs come, you just know what to expect. You know what you’re in for.”
Perhaps this time against his former friends.
Headline photo: Fox Sports
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.