Theme: “..it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”
-- Rocky Balboa
In the 2011-2012 season, Jay Beagle set NHL career highs in games played (41), goals (four), points (five), penalty minutes (23), shots on goal (49), hits (66), blocked shots (23), and face-off winning percentage (57.7 percent). That probably does not sound impressive, considering that Beagle came into the 2011-2012 season with a total of 41 games of NHL experience.
No doubt it would have been a much more impressive setting of career highs for Beagle had he not walked into a right hand from Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham early in the third period of the Caps’ third game of the season (a 3-2 overtime win). It started when Beagle tangled with Penguin defenseman Kris Letang along the boards at the Capitals’ blue line, knocking Letang’s helmet off. Asham challenged Beagle to a bout, and Beagle, in what surely had to be among the worst decisions he made that day, took him up on the offer. Beagle held his own for about ten seconds, but two overhand rights to Beagle’s cheekbone dropped the Capital forward to the ice. Beagle would miss the next 31 games with a concussion.
It was very unfortunate for Beagle, but he returned to demonstrate an ability, not to be a high-end skill player, but a dependable fourth liner. In 41 games he was a “minus” player only seven times. He was 50 percent or better 24 times in 35 games in which he took faceoffs (57.7 percent on the season). He was eighth among Capital forwards in hits despite playing only half a season. He was charged with only six giveaways in 41 games. And his being on ice for only 13 goals against in those 41 games left him with the best goals against-on-ice to games-played ratio of any Capital forward playing in at least 25 games.
It certainly earned him a promotion of sorts under Head Coach Dale Hunter. In the post-season Beagle was sixth among Capital forwards in average ice time per game. He was on ice for only four of the 27 goals scored against the Caps in the 12 playoff games he played. In that 12th game he would block a power play shot from New York Ranger Anton Stralman off his left foot in the third minute of the second period of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Even though the shot broke Beagle’s foot, he would skate another 8:12 in that game (a 3-2 overtime loss). However, it would be the last time he would skate for the season.
The Caps were 23-13-5 in the 41 regular season games in which Beagle played, 19-19-3 in the games in which he did not. He did not score a lot, but he made it count when he did. Twice his goals gave the Caps leads, and twice his goals gave the Caps a two-goal lead. Of course, it might have been easier to score had Beagle not had the second lowest offensive zone start numbers (40.2 percent) at 5-on-5 among Capital forwards playing in at least 40 games (Jeff Halpern, 39.2 percent). In spite of that, though, he had the sixth highest Corsi value relative to quality of competition among the 13 Caps forwards playing in at least 40 games (all numbers from behindthenet.ca). He became as much a “shutdown” forward as the Caps had, his 1.66 goals against/60 minutes at 5-on-5 being second best on the team to Joel Ward (1.49).
One of the problems that the Caps had in the playoffs in recent years is getting nothing on the scoreboard from the third or fourth lines. Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, Joel Ward … a total of three goals in 40 man-games in the 2012 playoffs. Beagle had one goal in 221 minutes of playoff ice time. That is better than Boyd Gordon getting none in 116 minutes the previous year, but it would be good, given where Beagle is in his career, to chip in a little bit more without sacrificing at the defensive end.
The Big Question… Can Adam Oates work wonders – even small ones – with Beagle’s offense?
Jay Beagle has demonstrated an ability to play a solid, earnest game in his own end. It did not go unnoticed when the playoffs started last season. But at the other end, one wonders if someone can find the key to Beagle’s offense. He had 47 goals in 211 regular season games over four seasons at Hershey. Maybe there is something there that some tweaks will uncover. Consider this. New Jersey Devil David Clarkson compiled a total of 52 goals in 298 games in the NHL before last season. As an assistant coach with the Devils last season Adam Oates showed Clarkson some video and suggested he shorten his stick. Clarkson finished the season with 30 goals, obliterating his previous season high of 17. This is not to say Oates can make Jay Beagle a 30-goal scorer, or even a 20-goal producer. But if Oates can get Beagle to, say, double his production, those extra four goals could come in handy and at least make the fourth line a more credible threat.
Jay Beagle might never be a star, but he could be a guy you win with. He has played on two Calder Cup champions in the AHL, and he played on a champion in the ECHL (Idaho Steelheads in 2007). The Caps record with him in the lineup last season projected to a 102-standings point pace (an 82-point pace without him).
Beagle sustained a concussion early in the season, came back, and was a solid performer who took on a bigger role in the playoffs. In those playoffs he broke his foot, but the club saw enough in him to re-sign Beagle to a three-year, $2.7 million contract. He says he feels no lingering effects from the injury that ended his season last year and looks forward to working with the new head coach. Jay Beagle has taken some shots, gotten up, and moved forward. Like Rocky said, “that’s how winning is done!”
Projection: 72 games, 8-7-15, plus-2
photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America