Following the Washington Capitals’ 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday night, Jason Chimera was at a loss for words.
“Do you have an explanation for when you have bad days at work?” he asked. “Some days you have bad days.”
Bad days have been plentiful for the Caps this year as a 7-0 start has turned into a 13-12-1 record. And it might be little solace for the ultra-competitive Chimera, but the 32-year-old has been one of Washington’s best players and went into Wednesday night’s game at the Ottawa Senators as the leading goal scorer.
With 11 goals and six assists, Chimera has been proving that hard work and speed pay off, something that is likely to continue as he fits perfectly with coach Dale Hunter’s style.
“He preaches getting up the ice fast, and he preaches forecheck. That leads right into my game,” Chimera said. “I’m a simple kind of player. I think when he played, he played pretty simple, but he scored a lot of points that way doing it.”
Chimera joked recently that he didn’t want to peak too early, developing a deft scoring touch now in his 30s. It might have come a couple of months too late, given that the speedy left wing just signed a two-year contract extension — for a slight pay cut — worth $3.5 million.
And while ex-coach Bruce Boudreau just smiled last month when asked about Chimera outplaying his contract already, Chimera recalled a recent conversation with his wife, Sarah.
“I said to my wife, I go, ‘That’s the best situation. If I score 25 goals and we win the Stanley Cup, I’ve got two more years left on my contract.’ I’d take that in a heartbeat,” he said. “When you get a chance to sign an extension - honestly, I know it sounds corny, but I don’t play for the money. I love doing what I’m doing.”
Chimera is on pace for 35 goals, which would blow away his previous career high of 17 with Columbus in 2005-06. That mark could be within reach by the All-Star break if he continues his current pace. Since the NHL’s expansion era began in 1967, only 13 players have enjoyed their first 30-goal season at age 32 or older.
As part of the Caps’ most consistent line alongside center Brooks Laich and right wing Joel Ward, Chimera has impressed Hunter with a solid all-around game.
“You see his speed up the ice, going on the forecheck. He comes in there, he beats ‘D’ down the ice,” Hunter said. “He’s getting rewarded for all the hard work he’s doing.”
Chimera is known more for his blazing skating than his pinpoint shooting accuracy.
But he emphasized improving his offense by working on his shot after practice and doing things over the summer to calm himself down and be prepared for scoring chances.
“I think just mentally I’ve improved my shot,” he said. “I knew that I had it in me. You’ve got to play with good players to be successful. I’ve been playing with Brooks and Wardo most of the year, and they’ve been helping me a lot.”
But Chimera also has been creating his breaks. Some goals have been the result of being in the right place at the right time - such as his double-overtime game-winner against the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs last season - but a few have been highlight-reel material. Last week against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chimera scored a beauty as he skated from next to the net and lifted a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury.
“That was very nifty,” Hunter said. “A backhand roof like that, that’s pretty impressive.”
Right now, that’s just Chimera, who has no regrets about signing before this scoring binge started.
“I felt this was the team that gave me the best chance to win, and that’s why I wanted to sign,” he said. “You can look back at your life and think of a lot of things you should have done differently, but there’s no way I’d do anything differently now.”