Brooks Laich and other Washington Capitals players acknowledged Tuesday night they were watching the out-of-town scoreboard, just taking a glimpse to see if the division-leading Florida Panthers were winning.
Forward Jay Beagle, on the other hand, wasn’t looking.
“Not at all,” he said with a laugh. “I just try and stay focused on what I’m going to do. And I think if I started thinking about something else - I don’t have the talent or the skill to be a Brooksie.”
Instead, Beagle had one of the best games of his NHL career, as part of a strong effort by him and his linemates, Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward. Though the fourth line hasn’t been piling up offensive numbers of late, it has been doing the perfect job of grinding down opponents by holding onto the puck in the offensive zone.
“It’s huge when you play down low and you cycle,” Beagle said. “You wear down their defense and you create momentum for the team, and that’s what we’re out there to do.”
The best example of the fourth line’s success came in the Caps’ 2-1 win at the Panthers on Feb. 17, when Ward, Halpern and Beagle created the blueprint of how to create energy without putting the puck in the net.
“You need to get all groups … going. You can’t win the game in the first period, so I think it’s important for us to wear the other team down as much as you can,” Ward said. “Hopefully we can stick to that and try to keep that going.”
They’ve done just that in recent games, including Tuesday’s overtime victory against the New York Islanders. Laich was quick to praise all three players when asked about Beagle’s night.
“Actually I thought that whole line was good. I thought Halpy and Wardo and Beags were buzzing,” he said. “They had real good cycle shifts, and then also they had a couple three-on-twos.”
Coach Dale Hunter wasn’t afraid to put the fourth line out there against the Islanders’ top trio, a trend that could continue if it keeps playing what Ward called a “structured style” of hockey.
“They’re playing hard. They’re outplaying other teams. I could put them against pretty much any line,” Hunter said. “They’re responsible defensively, but they’re forechecking and they’re cycling the puck well.”
Beagle was particularly impressive, putting up a career high with five shots Tuesday. He called it a “fun game” to play, as it fit his style of outworking opponents.
The 26-year-old has a workout warrior reputation that finds its way onto the ice, even though Beagle doesn’t have the finishing talent of many NHL forwards.
“The work ethic is huge. He’s a great kid and his work ethic is what gets [it] done,” Hunter said. “He’s annoying to play against because he works too hard out there.”
As if it’s possible to work too hard, especially for a fringe player who has spent his fair share of time with the Caps as a healthy scratch.
“You wouldn’t want to play against him because you know he’s going to play both ways - defensively, offensively - and he’s just a hard-working kid,” Hunter said.
Beagle is one of just a few Caps players left without a goal this season, though the 31 games he missed with a concussion skew that statistic.
Still, he’s making an impact despite not putting up a lot of numbers.
“He goes a hundred miles an hour everywhere,” Laich said. “His role is a six-to-eight-minute guy, and it’s tough to be a standout player with those minutes, but I think he does a great job for us.”