- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Drew Doughty remembers sitting in the Los Angeles Kings’ locker room shortly before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 when Justin Williams stood up to speak.

Williams had won the Stanley Cup once before, hoisting the trophy above his head with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. With the Kings back home after two losses to the New Jersey Devils but still on the cusp of victory, Williams looked around to each of his teammates, letting them know how important it was for him to remember them as champions.

“He was strong on that — ‘I want to remember us as winners together,’ and stuff like that,” Doughty said. “It worked.”

The Kings claimed their first title that evening, defeating the Devils, 6-1, in one of the most lopsided clinchers in the history of the championship series. They would win it all again two years later, holding off the New York Rangers in five games.

In the midst of it all was Williams, whose penchant for postseason success was among the chief reasons the Washington Capitals signed him to a two-year, $6.5 million deal in July. Williams had earned the nickname “Mr. Game 7” for his final-game heroics, going 7-0 in such games in his career while scoring seven goals with seven assists.

Of course, the Capitals have to get that far for Williams to live up to that reputation — and thus far, Williams has done his part. Entering Tuesday’s game against the Kings, his first against the team with which he spent parts of seven seasons, Williams had scored 18 goals with 20 assists, marks that are on pace to be his best in nine years.

That performance, along with a take-charge personality, has earned Williams a high degree of reverence in the dressing room. The Capitals knew they were acquiring a well-respected player when adding him over the summer, but the manner in which he ingrained himself into a team that experienced little other change has been noticeable.

“He really is a good piece, a good room guy, and he knows what to say at the right times, [especially for] the rest of the young guys to kind of look up to and follow,” said Capitals right wing Tom Wilson. “He came into the league at a very young age and has played a ton of years since, so he’s kind of seen it all and he knows what to expect. He’s a winner, and that’s huge to kind of have in a locker room.”

Williams, drafted in the first round in 2000, played for the Philadelphia Flyers for parts of four seasons before being traded to the Hurricanes. He left there in 2009, again traded, joining the Kings for what arguably may have been their most successful stretch in franchise history.

There, he endeared himself to teammates by getting to know them personally — which, he believes, can galvanize a team when players are emotionally invested in others’ well-being. The speech prior to the victory over the Devils was just one of several Williams gave during that first postseason run, and Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli said Williams has often had a knack for saying the right things at the right time.

“He’s not going to be talking all the time, but when he steps up and when he closes the locker room doors and he has something to say, you listen to him,” said Toffoli, a rookie the season between the Kings’ championships. “You get your game going and you follow his lead because he’s usually working harder than anybody else on both teams on the ice.”

Andre Burakovsky, who has been playing alongside Williams on the Capitals’ second line since early January, has done just that. Entering Tuesday, Burakovsky had eight goals and eight assists since joining Williams and center Evgeny Kuznetsov, and the left wing said he has frequently spoken with Williams about improving.

One thing Burakovsky has noticed is how Williams maximizes his space when he has the puck, which, he thinks, is a sign of respect from opponents. Burakovsky has similarly tried to tinker his positioning in both zones, understanding that such separation will aid his offensive game.

“It’s easy for me to make a play, and the only thing I can do when he has the puck is to try to get open, too, because he has so much skill to just give me the puck,” Burakovsky said.

When Williams joined the Capitals, he knew very few of his teammates. He and Alex Ovechkin were both selected to play for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game in 2007, and later that year, he and Jason Chimera both represented Canada in the IIHF World Championships.

Initially reluctant to speak his mind, Williams quickly found, once again, there is value in others hearing his voice.

“A lot of it is caring,” Williams said. “It’s caring about each other. You always work harder for guys you care about.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide