When Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt took to the ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night, it had been 363 days since he last scored a goal.
But you wouldn’t know it when he wound up for a shot in the second period. Schmidt initially maintained his position near the blue line, but as four Blue Jackets closed in on forwards T.J. Oshie and Alexander Ovechkin, the puck found its way to Ovechkin’s stick.
With a clear lane, Ovechkin gave the puck to Schmidt, who stepped into the space for a shot. His first attempt was blocked by Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, but Schmidt made no mistake with his second opportunity, placing the puck on a wrist shot right above Bobrovsky’s left shoulder for the Capitals’ third goal of the game.
With just five previous career goals in 170 games, it’s not a regular occurrence for the 25-year-old defenseman. Following the game, Schmidt was all smiles.
“I’m so happy,” he said with a big laugh. “Honestly, yeah, it’s [been] a little tough lately. You just got to stick with it. Something like that, where two guys go down and you end up hitting [the goalie on the first shot], comes right back to you, those are the types of bounces I’ve been talking about before. Those are the type of bounces you need in order to get that stuff going.”
The goal-less drought was particularly taxing on Schmidt because of his expectations this year. Prior to the start of the season, coach Barry Trotz said that one of his goals with Schmidt was to give him a bit more freedom in the offensive zone, to give him more opportunities to press towards the net in a similar fashion as fellow, more offensive-minded defenseman John Carlson.
Schmidt has played almost exclusively this season with defenseman Brooks Orpik, who is strictly a defensive player. Orpik’s positioning allows Schmidt to cheat up in the offensive zone a bit more.
In a conversation with Schmidt earlier this year, he said that this offensive responsibility, which wasn’t expected of him for his first three seasons in Washington, has been a bit difficult to adjust to.
“I’ve had those times [in my career] where you kind of have to adapt your role, find out where you belong and in the first couple years here, that wasn’t my role,” Schmidt said. “So now it’s kind of trying to get back to where we feel like we can get a little more offense from our D, and that’s what the staff kind of wants from me.”
This season, Washington defensemen have scored 15 goals, led by Carlson’s five and Karl Alzner’s three. That’s just ahead of last year’s pace, when Capitals defensemen found the net 31 times.