Steckel is ‘big-game guy’ for Washington
Throughout NHL history there have been players who were known for raising the level of their performance once the postseason begins, and Steckel is well on his way to earning that reputation.
“He’s a big-game guy,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When the games get more important, he is in there. He just wants to win. He’s a winner, and I think that’s what makes good hockey players great hockey players when it comes down to it.”
Boudreau has coached Steckel since their days in the Los Angeles organization, and he’s had a good view of the big center’s playoff exploits. Steckel had 14 goals during his first season with the Hershey Bears, but exploded for 10 during the team’s run to a Calder Cup title.
The next year the Bears made it all the way to the Calder Cup finals but lost to Hamilton in five games. Steckel had a big regular-season for Hershey and continued his strong play in the postseason with six goals and 15 points in 19 games.
“He plays simple hockey,” said Eric Fehr, who played with Steckel in Hershey. “He doesn’t take a lot of chances, and he’s always in the right position. That’s what you need in the playoffs – guys who are solid at sticking to the system. He’s solid in our zone, and when he gets an opportunity to score he does it – especially in the playoffs.”
Steckel cemented his reputation as a prime-time player in the postseason with his work for the Capitals last year. He has been a nice role player for Washington, skating on the third or fourth line and gaining notoriety for his ability to win face-offs and kill penalties.
After scoring eight goals in 76 games during the 2008-09 regular season, Steckel had three goals and five points to help the Capitals into the second round of the playoffs.
“I haven’t changed my game at all, but the little things tend to shine more,” Steckel said. “They are magnified in the playoffs, and that is something I excel at. I think it just maybe suits my game better.”
When Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby traded hat tricks in Game 2 of the second-round series with Pittsburgh, it was Steckel who had the other tally in a memorable 4-3 victory. He topped that later in the series.
With the team facing elimination at Mellon Arena in Game 6, Steckel won a face-off in overtime and then redirected a shot by Brooks Laich for the game-winner to force a Game 7 in Washington two days later.
“For sure,” Steckel said when asked if that was the biggest moment of his career. “Winning the Calder Cup is great, but it isn’t the Stanley Cup playoffs. That was a great goal for me, and it kept us in for one more game.”