The headline for the Caps’ preseason shootout win Friday against the Buffalo Sabres rightfully belonged to Nicklas Backstrom, who found the net for the first time in an NHL game since March 22 (h/t to David Nichols for the stat) and ended up with two goals. But a game like Friday’s is also the perfect case study of how much a third/fourth line grinder like Jay Beagle has to offer this team.
Beagle, playing on the fourth line with Matt Hendricks and Jeff Halpern, didn’t score a goal. But by the end of regulation, Beagle had a little bit of everything else: he got shots on goal (4), he gave out hits (4), he blocked shots (3), and he got an assist on a Hendricks goal that tied the game at 3 in the third period. Beagle even won the two faceoffs he took.
Going into yesterday’s game, Beagle had played four of five preseason games and had a plus-2 rating. Friday, he was never on the ice for any of the Sabres’ three goals against the Capitals.
Beagle said he particularly focused on hits during that game.
“We didn’t get that many hits the last game we played, so I wanted to bang the body a little bit, and start kind of getting into that groove and that grinder style of hockey,” Beagle said. “It’s always weird transitioning from shinny hockey in the summer to actual games. Tonight felt more like a game that I want to play and a style I want to play.”
It’s also the kind of game a coach is looking for in a player like Beagle. When asked about Beagle’s performance, Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau even threw in a few more items to Beagle’s resume.
“He’s energetic, and he kills penalties, and he brings life to the team, and in every practice, he makes it very difficult for our team, because he practices so hard all the time,” Boudreau said. “And that’s … one of the reasons he’s here.”
Beagle admitted after the Caps’ win Friday that he gets his competitive streak from–of all people–his grandmother.
“Surprisingly, my grandma is very competitive, and she would kill me if she knew I said that,” Beagle said. “She’s actually the hidden competitor in the family.”
Beagle said his grandmother is usually quiet, but the competitive streak comes out when she watches her grandson play hockey.
“She wants me to do well, and she wants the team to do well,” Beagle explained.
Defenseman Karl Alzner at the beginning of training camp gave reporters a peek at how competitive Beagle, his workout partner, is and how hard he trained during the offseason.
“I just wanted to do everything he did, pretty much,” Alzner said about his trips to the gym with Beagle, adding that Beagle was always the guy who would want to fit in that extra set of reps. Beagle didn’t want their trainer to put the two NHLers’ workouts online, in case his competition for an NHL roster spot could then find out what he was doing (Kings of Leonsis also talks about it here).
Whatever plan Beagle adopted over the summer seems to be working. And after his performance against the Sabres Friday, one thing is for sure: his grandmother should be proud.