- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2019

ARLINGTON — Mention Jay Beagle’s name in the Washington Capitals‘ locker room, and any of his old teammates will smile.

“I miss having him around,” Lars Eller said, whose used to be locker neighbors with Beagle at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.

“Your linemates hold a special, special spot in your heart for sure,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “That was Beags for the majority of (last) year. He helped me out a lot, and I’ll love him forever.”

The center who spent 10 seasons in Washington makes his first trip back to Capital One Arena Tuesday with his new team, the Vancouver Canucks.

Some Capitals fans still wear red No. 83 jerseys or name Beagle as their favorite player, even after he signed a four-year, $12 million deal with Vancouver in free agency. But fans aren’t the only ones who miss Beagle, as some of his former teammates reminisced about what he brought to the locker room.

“His work ethic is something is very contagious when he was here,” Brooks Orpik said. “Just by the way that he worked, I think it pushed other guys to kind of raise their levels without him saying anything. That’s a little bit missed this year, to be honest with you.”

The now-33-year-old is about more than the intangibles, though. Beagle does one thing really, really well: He wins faceoffs.

The Capitals would not be dead last in the NHL in faceoff win percentage (46.0) 52 games into the season if Beagle were still in town, winning individual battles on the dot.

But the front office made a business decision in electing not to re-sign the crowd-pleaser. They liked the depth they had down the middle, and they added free agent Nic Dowd for much cheaper than Beagle’s Vancouver deal.

The value of winning faceoffs is debated around the league. Some feel what you do with the puck once you have it is more important. In October, Eller said faceoffs “can be a little overrated,” and he noted the difference between losing a faceoff in the neutral zone and losing one in the offensive zone or during a power play.

As the league moves toward a greater focus on puck possession, the Capitals feel there are a number of ways to ensure they have the puck in their offensive zone. They’ve recently taken a tougher stance on penalties — they lead the NHL in minor penalties taken — and coach Todd Reirden temporarily benched multiple players in Sunday’s game for picking up penalties.

But the truth is, their lack of faceoff success is not just somewhat negative. The gap between 30th (the New York Rangers) and 31st in the league (the Capitals) is a whole 1.3 percent.

It is only fair to note that Beagle’s faceoff win percentage is down a few points this season — 53.1 percent entering Monday, after four seasons in the 56-58 percent range. But it’s still a better success rate than any Washington center. Eller is having the most success at 49.9 percent, Dowd is at 49.7 and Nicklas Backstrom is at 49.4. Evgeny Kuznetsov is at 38.6 percent and Travis Boyd is at 37.4.

Braden Holtby said “it’s tough” to replace a faceoff specialist as skilled as Beagle.

“He’s one of those players that set himself apart in his role,” Holtby said. “He’s probably the best in the league at that. You’re going to lose something when you lose a player like that, and that’s why he got rewarded for his play. He does the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet in order to help the team win.”

As this season wears on, that’s exactly the kind of thing the Capitals are looking for more of.

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