While 2020-21 didn’t go according to plan for the Washington Capitals, the campaign turned out to be one of, if not the best, for Nic Dowd.
After coming in to replace Jay Beagle as the team’s fourth-line center in 2018, the 31-year-old has made major strides since landing in D.C. and saw himself take a major step forward this past season.
“[This year was] a ton of fun as opposed to some of my last years playing hockey where it’s been challenging to get going in games and when you’re going, it doesn't feel like you're getting that reward of continued play and extra ice time,” Dowd explained.
Through 56 games in the regular season, Dowd hit a career-high of 11 goals and added four assists, while boasting a face-off percentage of 56.25, the 11th-best overall in the NHL. He also picked up two goals in the first round, including the Game 1 overtime winner against the Boston Bruins.
For Dowd, positive reinforcement and transparency with first-year coach Peter Laviolette helped him better understand his expectations and drove him to elevate his game.
“It’s tough to continue when you have those challenges and you know nothing is going to change,” Dowd admitted. “Whereas this year, Lavy was very upfront with us from the beginning. I look forward to playing every night.”
On the other side of the puck, Dowd was solid on the backcheck and made his presence known. He didn’t shy from engaging in puck battles and throwing his weight around, and ended the regular season with 109 hits and a career-high 40 blocks. Dowd also proved to take good care of the puck, registering 38 takeaways and giving up the puck just 15 times over 56 games.
As a result of his strong performance, the 2009 seventh-rounder logged a career-high of 14:22 minutes per game and also got the opportunity to step up and be on the ice for critical situations. He also boasted a defensive zone start percentage of 84.3 percent.
“To be relied on and to have that responsibility is everything you can ask as a hockey player,” Dowd said.
Beyond his individual play, Dowd’s line also thrived this past season, emerging as one of the Caps’ most consistent trios and biggest X-factors. Not only did the fourth line play with physicality, but it provided critical production and also took solid care of the puck. They combined for 49 points through 56 regular season games and four goals in the first round against Boston.
“I think it’s huge for us to contribute offensively,” Garnet Hathaway said in regards to fourth-line production. “I know we’re capable of it. You can go back to the regular season and see how we played. We take a lot of D-zone starts, but I think we contribute.”
“What has made our line so good throughout the year is that we don't mess around with the puck,” Dowd added. “We don't take risks with the puck. The puck is always getting into the offensive zone, which is our goal... our biggest strong suit is that we stay connected, we don't mess around with the puck, our puck management is good and then we get into the offensive zone and continue to do that all night.”
Dowd is coming up on the last year of his three-year contract. That being said, expect him to continue to raise the bar as he looks to earn an extension and continued trust from the organization.