A full time gig in the NHL didn’t come for Matt Hendricks until he was 28 and the gritty left winger has never scored more than nine goals in a single NHL season.
Hendricks has instead learned to embrace his role as a player who can be looked upon to block shots, kill penalties (second among Caps forwards in shorthanded ice-time), win faceoffs (a team-best 64.6 success rate), drop the gloves (a team-high four fights this season) and score in shootouts (an 8-for-12 lifetime success rate in the skills competition).
Matt plays by a simple mindset- work hard and you will be rewarded. Tuesday night’s 6-5 overtime win against the Florida Panthers may be the best example- not only for the Capitals as a team, who overcame a 5-3 third period deficit and rallied for a much needed two points, but also for Hendricks himself.
Hendricks’ started the game alongside Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb on Washington’s fourth line, but later took the express elevator to Washington’s top line where he skated with two of the team’s offensive leaders in Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin.
Hendricks answered with his third goal of the season and earned a season-high 17:42 of ice-time. The 17:42 TOI also represents the fourth highest single game total of Hendricks’ NHL career (228 regular-season games).
Head coach Adam Oates said that "from Day One that hard work is going to pay off around here”. Hendricks explained earlier this season, “do the systems correctly, work hard at what you do and you'll be rewarded.”
With the Capitals trailing Florida in the second period Tuesday and his team needing “a spark,” Oates decided to elevate Hendricks while veteran Jason Chimera saw his ice time limited.
Chimera skated just 5:43 and took only shift after the second intermission in Tuesday’s overtime win- his lowest ice-time since 2004 in a game in which was not either ejected (Mar. 29, 2012) or injured (Apr. 5, 2008).
The last time Chimera skated less than six minutes in a game he completed was on March 24, 2004- back when he was teammates with Oates with the Edmonton Oilers.
“I was looking for a spark, looking for someone to change the line,” Oates told reporters in Sunrise, FLA. “You get a feel out there and I just didn’t feel that [Chimera] had his A-game so I made a move.”
Chimera had career-highs across the board last season with 20 goals and 39 points in 82 games, but the 33-year-old is still searching for his first goal of the abbreviated 2013 season.
“I have to chip in a little more,” Chimera said last week. “I haven’t scored a goal. You can get chances all you want but we’ve got to bury some. You start with yourself and move on from there.”
While the Capitals have scored 11 goals in their last two games (after scoring 10 goals in their previous four games combined), Chimera and Jay Beagle remain the Capitals’ only forwards who have yet to score this season.