Sammi Silber The Hockey Writers
Surging Lars Eller Leading the Way for the Capitals
It’s normal to hear a variety of music played during breaks in a hockey game, but when the Washington Capitals play “Eye of the Tiger,” it’s become universally known that it’s become an ode to Lars Eller, who was nicknamed “Tiger” following a team-building exercise last season. The song has played three times over the last three games, signifying the 28-year-old’s impressive three-game scoring streak.
Eller now has eight goals and 20 points on the season and is on pace for a career-high 38 points. As the Capitals’ third line center, he has been one of the team’s most consistent performers and has also helped carry the bottom-six, even as Washington coped with losing forward depth with the departure of Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Daniel Winnik over the offseason. He also recorded his 200th career point in Tuesday’s win over Vancouver.
“Just keep shooting, I think, looking to shoot a little more,” Eller said of his offensive surge. “I think during the games I had a long stretch where I didn’t score but I was still getting chances. Sometimes it just goes in, and first stretch, they didn’t.”
Eller’s strong showing over Washington’s recent stretch has not gone unnoticed, and head coach Barry Trotz believes that Eller has been one of the Capitals’ top players of late.
“I just think he’s playing hard, I mean, he’s playing hard and heavy,” Trotz said. “It’s hard to get the puck from him, he’s skating, he’s hanging onto it, he’s winning his battles and he’s playing a determined game. We need a little more of that from everybody.”
Versatility on the Third Line
One of the biggest factors that the Danish center brings to the table is his ability to carry his linemates. While the third line has been everchanging from Washington, especially with a lot of competition on the forward lines and wingers being shuffled around the lineup, Eller has been a staple. He is someone who not only plays a strong two-way game but has strong chemistry with pretty much anyone.
So far this season, he has shown tremendous chemistry with Brett Connolly, and most recently, the addition of a T.J. Oshie has made that third unit one of the Capitals’ best lines. And since Oshie has joined Eller’s unit, he has three assists in his last three games.
“I think they have a bit of chemistry, I think [Oshie] has added a dimension to that line because Lars has a lot of puck possession ability, and so does Osh,” Trotz said. “I think they play a little bit of a two-man game and Connolly’s a little bit of a sniper on there, he can make plays as well. We’ll see if we’ll go with them.”
With the third line surging, Eller said that he thinks that it is great to see his line having a lot of chemistry, regardless of who’s playing on his wing, and that it gives Trotz and the team a lot of options and depth.
“I think it’s a strength for us that there’s so many ways to put this line together,” Eller said.
Not only can Eller help the team offensively, but he has exemplified what it takes to be a solid two-way center. He is winning 50.2 percent of his faceoffs this season and is an asset on special teams, not only earning time on the second power-play unit but also serving as an asset on the penalty kill.
The Capitals fell on home ice for the first time since Nov. 30 on Thursday in a 3-1 losing effort to the Carolina Hurricanes, where Eller scored the lone goal in the losing effort. They will face off again against Carolina again Friday, and Eller said the key is to acknowledge the defeat and to come back stronger.
“Use this loss today as fuel for tomorrow,” Eller said after Thursday’s loss. “It should be motivation to bring out better effort [Friday], and that’s what we need.”
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