Veteran Brett Connolly anticipated beginning the season with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Instead, the club assigned him to its American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford, Ill.
While it might have been easy to be pig-headed — a Stanley Cup winner re-acclimating to life in the minors as an IceHog — Connolly chose not to sulk. He hopes the Blackhawks noticed that work ethic as he prepares for his season debut against one of his former teams, the visiting Washington Capitals, on Wednesday.
“For whatever reason, I wasn’t part of the (Blackhawks’) plan at the start,” Connolly said. “I knew things were going to change, and I just had to stay positive, keep working and get ready for the next opportunity, because things happen so fast in this game and people are watching every night. You just have to believe in yourself.”
Chicago recalled Connolly on Sunday, ahead of Monday’s anticipated home game against the Calgary Flames. However, the NHL announced the contest was postponed as the Flames navigate a COVID-19 outbreak that saw six players and one staff member enter the league’s safety and health protocol within 24 hours.
The Blackhawks are set to play five of their next six games at home. With crowds now the norm again in the NHL, Connolly is eager to make a stronger impression upon the United Center faithful than last season.
The 29-year-old forward collected just two points and 10 shots on goal in 10 games with Chicago following a four-point effort in 21 games with the Florida Panthers. He said he has “completely tried to forget about” the struggles of 2020-21.
A short memory isn’t necessary for Washington, which opened a three-game road stretch on Saturday by topping Buffalo 3-2 in a shootout for its third win in four games.
The Capitals prevailed after trailing 2-1 entering the third period. Martin Fehervary scored the equalizer early in the third, his first goal in 13 games.
“We all knew in the room, we just knew we were getting outplayed,” Washington’s Conor Sheary said. “We weren’t playing our game; we were turning the puck over leading to their transition and their offense. We knew if we put together a good 20 minutes, we would give ourselves a really good chance to win, and when Marty scored that goal, I think it really gave us a jump and we didn’t really give them much in the third.”
Alexander Ovechkin has five assists in the past three games and an overall point streak of five games.
The Capitals may welcome some reinforcements on the blue line as Nicklas Backstrom progresses in his recovery from a hip injury that has sidelined him to start the season. He participated in practice line rushes for the first time Monday, and the team did not rule out Wednesday as a possibility for his season debut.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster I think, especially an emotional one,” Backstrom said. “It’s some days early on, you’re kind of like getting down a little bit, but at the same time I mean, now we’re here and it’s feeling good, which is what we all hoped for. So hopefully it stays that way.”
Tom Wilson remains day-to-day for Washington with an upper-body injury. He did not travel with the team to Buffalo. Nic Dowd and Trevor van Riemsdyk practiced Monday but still are in COVID-19 protocol.
–Field Level Media