- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Chandler Stephenson brought the puck to his left and Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore bit on the inside-out move, creating enough separation for the Capitals forward to rifle one past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Stephenson’s goal on Sunday added to what has been a string of solid performances lately for the 23-year-old — solidifying the case he’s has been making for staying on the ice.

Coach Barry Trotz has repeatedly said effort will determine playing time, and, for the roster’s role players, that can mean the difference between suiting up and being declared inactive.

Of the quartet of Stephenson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Andre Burakovsky, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Vrana, Trotz has been sitting at least one every game.

In recent games, Chiasson has been on the outside looking in. But Stephenson isn’t far removed from being out of the lineup. He was a healthy scratch Jan. 7 against the St. Louis Blues.

But it’s hard to sit Stephenson when he’s playing like this: He’s had three goals in four games.

“When he’s skating and he’s intense, he’s a force,” Trotz said. “And he’s getting rewarded for that offensively.”

Stephenson has 13 points (five goals and eight assists) this season, but he went through a 28-game scoring drought before scoring two goals in a span of 47 seconds in a 5-3 win last week over the Philadelphia Flyers.

His performance against the Flyers marked the first multi-goal game of his career.

Stephenson said the game has been slowing down for him, and Trotz has expanded his role, too.

“I’m just trying my best,” Stephenson said. “I’m playing the (penalty kill) now, so I’m just trying to do my best there with [Jay Beagle] and not think about it too much. Just go out there and have some fun.”

Stephenson has played throughout the lineup, including moments in the top six. He has spent most of his ice time on the same line as Chiasson and Beagle. Over the last three games, Trotz swapped out Chiasson and put Smith-Pelly on the fourth line.

Earlier in the season, Trotz liked the urgency he saw from Stephenson. Stephenson, after all, didn’t make the Capitals’ opening night roster and was even exposed to waivers — meaning another team could have claimed him. Before that, he spent much of the past four seasons with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League.

However, injuries among the Capitals forwards gave Stephenson another chance, and he hasn’t looked back.

If the Capitals were to try to send him back down now, there’s a good chance other NHL teams would snap him up.

Stephenson said he’s gaining confidence every game.

“It’s kind of knowing what to expect every game,” Stephenson said. “I’m just getting used to the speed and the guys here in the locker room.”


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