EDMONTON, Alberta — It was quite a sight for the few looking on in an almost-empty seating bowl at Rexall Place on Wednesday afternoon. A half-hour before the Capitals originally were set to practice, Matt Hendricks complimented the guys who prepared the ice and stepped onto a fresh sheet of it.
The nets hadn't even been put into place yet, but Hendricks skated over to the bench to gather a bucket of pucks and got into position. Setting up the net himself, he proceeded to take shots from between the circles at the empty net.
"Look at Hendy," teammates remarked as he fired puck after puck at the net — hitting most.
That feeling of hitting the net isn't one Hendricks has experienced during this regular season. And while he and the Caps are just seven games in, he'd like to start scoring to reach the preseason benchmark of 10 goals.
"I'd like to score a goal every five games if I could," Hendricks said. "But when they don't go in, they don't go in. I've been really close. Now it's just keep working on it, and they're going to go."
Hendricks said his goal drought — if you can even call it that – isn't the reason he spends extra time on the ice practicing his shot, which has been widely praised by teammates.
"I think he does it because he wants to be a better scorer," said Mike Knuble, who is serving as something of an example for Hendricks when it comes to crashing the net to score. "He's a pretty good scorer. Just because guys don't get a lot of goals sometimes, sometimes you're not put in the right situation to be able to score more. He shoots the puck hard; he shoots accurately."
Hendricks has a sharp focus when he's on the ice alone, just trying to get a motion down and hit the net.
He's not worried about goal production right now, noting that when one comes, more likely will follow.
"I usually get them in bunches, just like assists. Either I'm getting assists, then I won't get anything for a while, then I'll get some goals and I won't get any assists," Hendricks said. "It's the way it's been for me my whole career."
And while Hendricks has enjoyed 20-plus-goal seasons from high school through the American Hockey League, he has yet to crack double digits in the NHL. He had nine last season (and nine the year before), though he likes to remind reporters that he should have had 11 last year, had two not been taken away.
Still, the goal of 10 remains the starting point for a fourth-line grinder with an offensive mindset.
"Oh, definitely. Definitely," Hendricks said. "Seven games in right now, I've had a lot of chances, so I've got to keep going."
The difference this year is that Hendricks already has contributed in a major way to the Caps' offensive success. He has three assists as part of a potent fourth line alongside Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Perreault (since Jay Beagle got hurt).
Because of Perreault's offensive gifts, Hendricks said his role has changed a bit.
"Halpy and I just try to get him the puck and do what we can to create offense," Hendricks said. "For me, I just try to get [Perreault] the puck, be that high-energy, gritty guy that can get to the front of the net, cause havoc, and I think our line has been successful because of that."
But the ingredients for goal-scoring — from his work ethic to his sharp, accurate shot — are present for Hendricks. And even while focusing on trying to set up Perreault, the 30-year-old should put himself in position to light the lamp.
"Just keep working on it," he said. "Keep going to the net and being in the right spots, and they're going to go in."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.