Jason Chimera’s long, international nightmare is over.
The puck was in the net, the red light was on and the expression on his face made it look like the weight of 27 games, 13 arenas and almost two months’ worth of pressure was off his shoulders.
“Finally,” Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Almost he forget how to celebrate a goal so he was kind of, ‘Aw I scored a goal finally.’”
Chimera’s goal Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres was a welcome relief not just for the respected 33-year-old left wing but all of his teammates. When Troy Brouwer, Mathieu Perreault, Jack Hillen and John Carlson celebrated, it was like the Caps had won a playoff game, and Cheshire Cat smiles on the bench greeted Chimera on his way back.
“You can see a lot of the guys are happier than me that I scored,” Chimera said. “So it means we’ve got great guys on this team, and it helps to know they’ve got your back.”
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a little fun with Chimera along the way, lighting incense to try to change his fortunes. He said a Jobu voodoo doll from “Major League” even made an appearance in his locker.
“Yeah, it was a fun ribbing, but I think they know it’s a sensitive subject when you haven’t scored a goal in  games,” Chimera said. “It’s all fun, though. Guys are really good about it.”
It is a sensitive subject. For most of the past couple of months, Chimera has been good-spirited about his play despite not scoring a goal. But teammates tried to lay off him at times.
“You don’t want to mess with a guy like that too, too much,” Brouwer said. “At first we did, and then we kind of backed off because everyone’s been in a drought. You know it can wear on you, and when guys are picking at you a little bit it can make it worse.”
It could have gotten bad for Chimera if this happened several years ago instead of now, in his 10th NHL season. The left wing said he had never been through a stretch like this in his carer.
“Back in my younger days I might have been more [ticked] off, but I think having kids humbles you a bit,” Chimera said. “You go home and kind of reset yourself, and it’s a good feeling.”
When asked about one of Mike Knuble’s famous lines about sacrificing a goat to end a drought, Chimera said he didn’t want to hurt any animals. Maybe he’d take the batteries out of one of his kids’ toys, but he wasn’t going to do anything extreme.
“I parked in a different spot today when I got home in my driveway, so maybe that helped out,” Chimera said after Sunday night’s 5-3 victory over the Sabres. “That was the only thing I did differently.”
On the ice, Chimera had the confidence to call for the puck. He and his linemates were just coming on for a change as Brouwer controlled the puck behind the Sabres’ net.
Chimera drove to the net and let it be known he wanted the pass.
“I know someone is going to be there,” Brouwer said. “In his case he was screaming so loud it almost scared me. So I knew he was there.”
Chimera might have scared his way out of this slump, but coach Adam Oates knew it would end sooner or later. He talked to Chimera before the Buffalo game and reminded him that he was involved in six of the Caps’ 11 chances a day earlier at the Boston Bruins.
“That means you’re doing some good things and you’re involved in the game, the opportunities,” Oates said. “Obviously been a tough road for him. But I really feel like the last five, 10 games he’s played much better hockey and that’s why he’s getting those chances. And finally went in for him.”
Chimera said he was reassured to hear his coach and a Hall of Famer say: “You’re playing well. It’s going to go in, keep it up.”
“I think you’re doing some stuff well and for whatever reason, it hasn’t been for lack of trying,” Chimera said. “Hasn’t been for a lack of shooting, that’s for sure, I was just snake-bitten a bit. Maybe that’s an understatement.”
Chimera’s first goal of the year came on his 59th shot. He figured something was going to go in.
“Probably about 10 or 12 times, three or four posts,” he said. “Winnipeg I remember one and [Saturday] I had a good chance, and thought I had one there were about 10-15 times I thought I had one.”
It was Chimera’s first goal since May 9, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers. It was his first regular-season goal since April 2.
That the drought was to start the season made it feel like a bigger deal.
“I went 30 games without scoring a few years ago, and the thing is, if you do that in the middle of the season nobody really sees it, but when you start the season and you don’t have a goal [it’s more noticeable],” center Mike Ribeiro said. “I went 16 games one year at the start of the season without a goal, and it’s a lot more pressure when you start to the season and don’t score [as compared to] having two or three goals and then maybe you go 15 or 20 games without scoring and you don’t really see it as much.”
Going 27 games without a goal was especially jarring considering Chimera scored a career-high 20 last season. Oates was upbeat during the past two months, but sometimes it’s hard to convince a guy who’s used to scoring that it’ll happen.
“A little bit harder at the beginning of the year because he had success last year,” Oates said. “You know, the game’s not that easy. Maybe he thought that it’s just going to continue that way.”
Chimera started to be concerned when he went five games without a goal. Then it kept going.
“Some goalies made some world-class saves against me, and maybe I’ll be on Don Cherry’s ‘Rock’em Sock’em [Hockey],’” Chimera said. “But it was coming. I felt I had been playing pretty good, and it wasn’t one of those things where you were playing terrible and not getting rewarded. You’ve just got to keep going, and I scored 20 goals last year, and it’s not like I scored 20 goals 10 years ago. It was just last year. You know you’ve still got it in you and you’ve got to keep going.”
Sensing a goal coming isn’t the same as actually scoring it, though. So the Caps had some more fun with Chimera on Sunday night.
“I think Ribs even went and got the puck for him,” Brouwer said, drawing laughs. “Now that he’s scored we can give it to him again a little bit. Guys are just real happy for him.”