Wolski isn’t dead. This is just how he celebrates goals. (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)
Wojtek Wolski was playing first-line left wing when he scored a third period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was February 1. He would take 35 days to notch his next tally, which came during Tuesday’s overtime win over Boston. Wolski scored another goal less than 48 hours later– at the beginning of the Washington’s 7-1 rout of the Florida Panthers.
“It’s the fun part of hockey,” Wolski said of his recent goals. “I had so many chances in the last little while, and they weren’t going in, and we weren’t scoring, and we were losing. It’s tough, it’s frustrating. When it turns the other way and the hard work pays off, it’s reassuring. I’m really happy about it.”
In the month between goals, Wolski went from the first line to the third before finally becoming a healthy scratch against the Winnipeg Jets on March 2 — after the Caps picked up Aaron Volpatti. Volpatti’s acquisition illustrated the demise of Wolski, brought in to be a top-six winger in the offseason. A one-time 20-goal scorer with the Colorado Avalanche, Wolski has bounced around the last few years and is now serving on his fourth team since 2011. The Caps hoped another change of scenery could jumpstart the skilled winger. That, however, didn’t happen. In 19 games before Tuesday, Wolski has just two goals. He found his way into the lineup against the Bruins only because Troy Brouwer fell ill. The Polish-born player’s prospects looked like they would dim even more once Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich return from injury. Head coach Adam Oates said he wasn’t just concerned with the lack of production on the scoresheet, but rather the fact that Wolski was playing poorly in all facets of the game.
But thanks to Brouwer’s stomach bug, Wolski found a way to get back into Oates’s good graces. He scored a key goal to tie the game late in the third period against the Bruins and kept it up with the second goal of Washington’s crazy opening scoring flurry.
“It’s great,” Wolski said of the terms offensive explosion. “We’ve started playing really well. We’re sticking to our system, I think it’s creating a lot of chances.”
Just over three minutes in Thursday’s game against his former team the Panthers, Wolski took a pass behind the goal line from Mathieu Perreault, firing a quick wraparound. Florida goalie Jacob Markstrom wasn’t ready — for either the shot or the game. Both teams seemed shocked the puck went in, instead looking for a rebound. Wolski doubled his goal output in less than 10 minutes of play. He threw his arms up as he fell to the ice, pushed down by a Panthers defender. Later in the game, he added his 7th and 8th points of the season.
“It was kind of a surprise,” Oates told me with a laugh. “No one in the building knew it was in!”
“I don’t care about the production,” the coach added. “I think if a guy plays good hockey that it will happen — and I think he’s played better.”
Wolski’s poor production — at least up until this week — has been maligned during his time here. Some of that is unfair. Wolski hasn’t contributed top-six numbers, but he probably shouldn’t have been expected to. Wolski has scored just 16 goals his last two years in the NHL. He tallied just four last year. That fact that Matt Hendricks has now taken over the spot he once had on the first line shows how little depth the Caps have in the top-six. If Wolski can find his game, that could go towards alleviating what has arguably been their biggest problem.
“That’s part of the NHL,” Mike Ribeiro said of Wolski’s resurgence. “A lot of times you wait and wait, and when you have your chance you need to take it because those chances don’t come too often. Every time you score your confidence comes back a little bit more. It’s nice to see. We need everyone to win games. If everyone can chip in it makes the game easier for everyone else.”
Let’s hope there’s less of this:
GIF by welshhockeyfan
And more of this: