TORONTO | Brian Pothier jammed at the loose puck, and it squirted through the goaltender’s legs - a couple of inches to his right and Pothier would have been the hero Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
Instead the puck slid into the right goal post and not into the net, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to eventually escape with a 2-1 shootout victory. Yes, Pothier would like to have that one, but it is an example of a positive development in recent weeks for his Washington Capitals.
Pothier has become more involved at the offensive end, and he’s playing the way he did before a devastating concussion cost him more than a year of his career.
“I’ve been playing a little differently. I’m trying to be more proactive offensively, just skate more and be involved more,” Pothier said. “I think at the start of the year I was just feeling my way around and trying to get comfortable with knowing how far to go without getting caught.”
Late in Saturday’s game was an extreme example of how far Pothier will go - he was mere inches from the goal crease - but his newfound confidence in pursuing offensive gains could be a long-term boon for the Caps.
Pothier has three goals and three assists in the past eight games. He has scored more in the past two-plus weeks than any member of the Washington defense not named Mike Green has all season.
Green was spectacular last season - producing one of the greatest offensive seasons by a defenseman in the past two decades. Secondary scoring from the blue line though, was nearly nonexistent. Pothier’s three goals in the past eight games are as many as any defenseman - except Green - scored all of last season as well.
“I guess something just clicked. It is good for our team for me to do that,” Pothier said. “Before I was just trying to be a good soldier and not get scored on - make a good first pass and change. But now I see it is good for our team to have that fourth man and be a little more proactive to help initiate that rush a little more.”
As it turns out, it was Green’s injury that sparked this revelation for Pothier. Green was hurt Nov. 6 against Florida, and because of that (and an injury to Jeff Schultz in the same game), Pothier logged more than 25 minutes.
He also had a goal and two assists. Since then, Green has returned, but Pothier’s offensive-minded approach hasn’t changed. His overall play has improved, and Bruce Boudreau has rewarded him with more ice time.
Pothier has played at least 18 minutes in seven of the past eight games - he reached that plateau only once in his first 13 contests this season.
“I think the trigger for me to play more offensive is helping me play better defensively as well, if that makes sense,” Pothier said. “I feel more comfortable now. When you do that - when you jump in and be more assertive - you just feel more comfortable on the ice. You skate better, you handle the puck more and you feel more involved. In the defensive end, you feel better [as well]. You are in the flow of things, and you can jump [passes] and you can read things better.”
Before the concussion in January 2008, Pothier was considered an offensive defenseman. He had five goals and 35 points in 2005-06 for the Ottawa Senators, and the Caps gave him a four-year, $10 million contract to provide some of that offense in Washington.
He has never scored more than five goals in an NHL season, but he had five in 38 games two years ago before the concussion ended his campaign. Double digits isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and it benefits the Caps to have a supporting character like Pothier patrolling the blue line.
“When I came back from my injury I was put in a [conservative] role, and it was that time of year where you don’t mistakes - just move the puck, move the puck, change,” Pothier said. “I never really joined [the rush].”
Added Boudreau: “I told him that - he’s got to play the way he can play. He can’t go out there and be somebody he’s not.”