Why Laviolette, Capitals Are Keeping Dylan McIlrath In The Mix
The Washington Capitals are keeping Dylan McIlrath in the mix on the blue line. Here’s more on what Peter Laviolette and the group have liked from him so far.
WASHINGTON — Amid the Washington Capitals' struggles at both ends of the ice , head coach Peter Laviolette chose to switch up the defense with the team looking to stay in the playoff race. To do that, he turned to Dylan McIlrath, who has earned an extended stay up in D.C. for now with the team navigating injuries and looking for the right combination to snap a five-game skid and start picking up some wins.
McIlrath was recalled while Alex Ovechkin was back home in Russia following the death of his father, Mikhail. With the exception of a paper move to make room for Tom Wilson's return for the Stadium Series, the 30-year-old has been with the big club, and with Dmitry Olrov now being held out for trade reasons, he could remain up longer. For Laviolette, McIlrath's opportunity is also a reward for his strong play down in the AHL while wearing the "C" for the Hershey Bears.
"He’s done a really good job first of all down in Hershey. He was a top pair down there playing against the other team’s top opponents. First guy out the door on the penalty kill. With a good yea,r he got an opportunity just to come up here and see how he would do here," Laviolette explained.
The 6-5, 232-pound blueliner has appeared in two games so far, racking up 10 hits and seven shot attempts, along with two blocks and a +/- of plus-2. He is getting his third game on Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks, as Laviolette is keeping the defensive pairs together after liking what he saw from No. 25 in a small sample size.
"It's important for him to play to his strengths. I think he’s a good defender. He's physical and he brings that physical element to defense, he’s been making a good first pass, getting pucks out of our end and I think just keeping the game simple," Laviolette added. "That’s how he found success, that’s kind of his MO and he’s trying to implement that up here. And I think he’s done a good job."
READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Holding Out Hathaway, Orlov For Trade Reasons
Since he made his regular-season debut, McIlrath ranks second in Corsi-for percentage (58) and fourth in scoring chances-for percentage (60.87) among all Capitals skaters at 5-on-5. He is second on the team in hits over that span, just one behind Martin Fehervary.
"He's a good player, he's physical, he plays simple and he knows what he does that makes him successful, and he does it very well," defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk added of McIlrath, then laughed, "It's nice when he gets kind of moving downhill and throwing the body around, it gives everyone a little bit of extra energy."
McIlrath, who was the 10th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has built his career on heavy hits, willingness to fight and battle at both end of the ice. He is a tough, shutdown defenseman who isn't necessarily a point producer, but a mobile, strong skater who can bring grit and a spark to the table. And now back in the NHL after nearly three years, he is bringing that same mindset to the table.
"It's unreal. Obviously being a guy that's spent most of his career in the minors, you never know when you're going to have your last NHL game," McIlrath said. "So I just try to enjoy every moment as best I can, especially with a team like this, veteran group trying to win, it means a lot."
Washington hosts Anaheim at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, where McIlrath will suit up alongside Erik Gustafsson on the third pairing while looking to help halt the Capitals' losing streak at five games