TAMPA — The first time Capitals coach Barry Trotz spoke with wing Brett Connolly, the former Lightning No. 6 overall pick admitted that he probably got put in the NHL too soon.
Connolly played 68 games with the Lightning in 2011-12 season as a 19-year-old straight out of junior. He then bounced back and forth from the AHL the next few years before getting dealt by Tampa Bay in 2015. The Capitals were his third team in three years.
"He said, 'I sort of lost my way a little bit,' " Trotz said of Connolly. " 'And I'm trying to find my way back.' "
It certainly looks as if Connolly, 24, has, entering Saturday's game with the Lightning with a career-high 15 goals in 56 games. Connolly, on a show-me one-year, $850,000 deal, said playing a third-line role on a really good team took some pressure off him. And he's averaging only 10:53 a game.
"I've found that confidence again to score on a consistent basis," Connolly said.
It didn't happen right away, with Connolly a healthy scratch for a good portion of the season. Coach Jon Cooper, who had Connolly in AHL Syracuse and Tampa Bay, said he's happy for him.
"He has just a natural ability to score," Cooper said. "I think it took him a little time to find his way in the league, but he's found a home in Washington. He's kind of settled into a really good spot. They've got some guys that carry the spotlight there, the (Alex) Ovechkins and (Nicklas) Backstroms. And Brett slides in there and quietly has 15 goals. He can do that. He's become that secondary scoring that teams desperately look for."
Trotz pointed out that everyone, high pick or not, has his own path.
"Not everyone is a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews," Trotz said. "Some guys don't get off to the start that they want and maybe find success a little later on in their career. Nothing wrong with that."
Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette all missed Saturday's game with lower body injuries. Cooper said there's no timetable for their return, though Namestnikov skated in a red jersey for the second consecutive day.
Quote of the day
"We just put our logo up in the sky and they fly up."
Coach Jon Cooper, channeling Batman, in describing the wave of emergency callups from AHL Syracuse.
• Alex Killorn's goal Saturday snapped a 16-game drought. And it was a huge one, tying the score.
• Fitting move by AHL Syracuse to name Erik Condra captain, replacing Luke Witkowski, who is with the Lightning. Condra handled a difficult season (eight callups) with class.
• Bet a lot of Lightning fans held their breath when G Andrei Vasilevskiy left the game four minutes in. He missed just 20 seconds due to a skate issue.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.