The Washington Capitals will host the Calgary Flames on Monday night at Capital One Arena. The matchup will be an important one for the team as they look to get back on track after their Opening Night shutout defeat but it will perhaps be an even bigger game for offseason acquisition Matthew Phillips.
Phillips spent his entire career in the Calgary organization up until signing with the Capitals in free agency this past summer. Right before Phillips made the jump to DC, Mitch Love, Phillips’ head coach with Calgary’s AHL affiliate, was just announced to be part of Spencer Carbery’s staff with the Capitals.
Phillips spoke with Monumental Sports Network’s Tarik El-Bashir about the process of leaving the Flames and how Love helped impact it.
The Capitals officially announced Love’s hiring on June 22, shortly before NHL free agency was to open. One of the very first things he did with his new responsibility was talk to Capitals brass about Phillips.
“That got the ball rolling a bit,” Love said.
On the very first day of unrestricted free agency, July 1, both Carbery and Love made personal calls to Phillips to try and get him to sign with the Capitals. Phillips would end up doing so just a day later, spurning a two-year offer from the Flames in favor of a one-year, one-way contract worth $775,000 with the Capitals.
“They kinda came out of nowhere on the first day and were very, very interested,” Phillips said.
Under Love in the AHL (with both the Stockton Heat and Calgary Wranglers), Phillips put up 144 points (67g, 77a) in 131 games. Those two teams were also ultra successful, posting a combined 96-33-11 record with Phillips as their leading scorer in both years.
That sort of production made it clear to Love that Phillips deserved a shot at making an NHL roster. “Obviously, I had a front-row seat the last couple of years to watch him play,” Love said. “I just describe him as a gamer. I’ve seen lots of moments where he’s been a game-changer. And now here we are, starting the season on Friday and he’s on our opening-day roster. That’s a huge credit to him and his belief in the process that he’s gone through.”
The 2023-24 campaign was Phillips’ first-ever season starting off with a big club after the Flames had him start in the minor leagues the past five years. Despite his immense production in the AHL, Calgary only gave the shift winger three games at the NHL level over the past three years.
Phillips was asked to come up with what he thought the reason for that was. “Honestly, I’m not sure,” he replied. “When I turned pro, they had a couple of really good teams that had strong regular seasons, and it felt like they were always going for it and locked into their group. As the years went on, I feel like I did everything I could to put myself in position but, for whatever reason, I just never got that opportunity.”
Now, Phillips will line up across from some of his former teammates on Monday. The 25 year old has stuck on the Capitals’ third line with Sonny Milano and Dylan Strome after the trio spent almost the entirety of the preseason together.
Carbery talked about what he wants to see from Phillips in what could be described as a “revenge” game. “He’s obviously going to be highly motivated,” Carbery said. “That goes without saying. I would go the same way that you would for the first game of the season, Opening Night. Don’t try to do things or press because you want to be successful and you so badly want to perform well.
“Go through the routine and go through your process on the ice in your shifts and on the bench or try to as you normally would any other night. Let the game come to you. Focus on your wall touches, focus on being in good positions, stopping on pucks. All those little things that I feel like when you add those up – the results will take care of itself.”
Puck drop for the game is at 7 pm. Phillips and the Capitals as a whole will be looking for their first points of the campaign.
Headline photo: Candice Ward/Calgary Wranglers
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