New fatherhood agrees with Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen.
Hillen’s second son, Knox Patrick, was born April 6. Hillen has three goals this season, the third of which came Tuesday night as the Caps smoked the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 for their eighth straight victory.
The other two have also come since Knox was born. If this keeps up, the youngster is going to grow up thinking his last name is Gretzky.
“It’s funny. I don’t even know what to say about that,” Hillen said. “Need to have more kids, I guess.”
Whatever works. The Caps are on quite a roll and a huge part of it is the play of captain Alex Ovechkin and the team’s other stars like Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer, John Carlson and Mike Green.
Ovechkin, the league-leader in goals who has made himself into an MVP candidate, had his 28th goal of the shortened season against the Leafs. He also had an assist and a huge hit that drew a penalty but served to rally his teammates after Ovechkin took exception to a hit on Backstrom.
But there is more to this streak than the play of those expected to play at such a high level. Steve Oleksy’s play on defense, Hillen’s solid defense as well as his scoring surge, Jason Chimera showing he still has “it” – pretty much the entire roster is playing at a high level.
“Those role players, those secondary players, are playing very, very well,” Brouwer said. “Sometimes they get overshadowed because of the players we have on this team. (Eric) Fehr has been playing phenomenal, Matt (Perreault) is on a pretty good point streak right now and always contributing.
“Those guys are crucial to our wins. Your star players can take you far. You need those role players to help you along.”
Hillen might be the flagbearer of that crew. In his first year with the Caps, his season got off to a bad start when he was injured in the opener. He missed 24 games and became almost a forgotten man.
Hillen was excused from practice Monday. He left early Sunday for a whirlwind trip home to Minnesota to see Knox for the first time, as well his wife, Caitlin, and older son, Finn. They packed a lot into the visit, including Knox’s baptism and first visit to the doctor.
“A great trip home,” Hillen said. “I’m going to try and get them out here and get some help for them. It was good to at least get to see them for a couple of days.
Knox is “even littler in person. I couldn’t believe how small he was, I forgot how fast they grow. It was awesome to get to hold him.”
Hillen got back about 10 Monday night, got a good night’s sleep and resumed life as a professional hockey player. With another goal, of course. In addition to the three goals since Knox was born, Hillen has three assists. Pre-birth, Hillen had one assist.
“He’s come back with a clear mind now that his child is born,” Brouwer said. “And he’s playing great hockey.”
Because of their 2-8-1 start, the Caps haven’t secured a playoff spot yet even with the win streak that is the longest current one in the league. But barring a massive collapse, they will make the playoffs. How far they’ll get there will depend on a variety of factors, including luck.
One of those factors? Strong play from the entire roster, like what’s been present during this current streak.
“It’s been great that everybody has a chance to chip in,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “You like to see guys get rewarded.
“I try and make them not focus on stats. Because it’s hard in this league to score and we count on you for more than just that. But it is a little bit human nature and to see the defensemen, and Jack has had a great month for us and has been playing great. You don’t expect a lot of offense, but his skating ability and then he chips in for a goal. Every little thing adds up.”