Justin Williams’ pregame mental checklist might deviate, depending upon the familiarity of the opponent.
The Washington Capitals right wing realized he needed to add another entry to the list. He was sharing a meal with some of his former Kings teammates when they were in town last month to play Washington, his new opposition being the same band of brothers he won the Stanley Cup with twice in Los Angeles.
Williams has played against former teammates before. He started his career in Philadelphia, was traded to Carolina (where he won his first Cup with the Hurricanes) and was dealt to the Kings in 2009.
“You’re never really prepared for it,” Williams said. “You go out with the guys the night before and have dinner and laughs and then you see them on the ice.
“I made a note not to make any eye contact, just focus on the game. Or else I’d be … not helping my team. Puck drop, it’s another game, but it’s not another game for me.”
Who knows what would happen if he accidentally caught the eye of a close friend such as center Anze Kopitar or defenseman Drew Doughty?
Williams certainly didn’t want to find out. He set up the go-ahead goal in the Capitals’ 3-1 win over the Kings at Verizon Center on Feb. 16.
Williams encountered some more familiar faces in the Capitals’ 2-1 shootout victory against the Ducks on Monday night at Honda Center. It was billed as one of the biggest games in the NHL this season and did not disappoint as the No. 1-ranked team managed to hold off Anaheim, the hottest team in the league since Christmas.
“No matter who you play, you’re always trying to send a message,” Williams said.
Talk, however, turned to Wednesday’s game between Washington and the Kings at Staples Center, the first time back for two former Kings, Williams and center Mike Richards.
It has been difficult for Williams to deal with questions about coming back, but he has obliged with emotional honesty.
“I don’t like thinking about it,” he said. “Because that’s looking back and I find the best way to move on is to think about the future and the present.
“But in doing that, reflecting back, I enjoyed the best years of my career there. There’s no shortage of friends and memories. They’re tough games to play but games I want to win.”
Williams joked about the potential crowd reaction Wednesday.
“They’ll be booing every time I have the puck,” Williams said, smiling.
His leadership, scoring touch — 19 goals and 45 points in 66 games — and humility have impressed his new teammates, fully aware of his Cup-winning credentials.
“When you bring in guys like that, it’s always a good thing to have in the dressing room, that veteran presence that’s been there,” Capitals winger Jay Beagle said. “He chimes in at the right time and when he speaks everyone listens.”
KINGS NEXT UP
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: Capitals goalie Braden Holtby is expected to start Wednesday and, with 41 wins this season, continues to approach the league record of 48 victories set by Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils in the 2006-07 season. The Capitals have played 66 games this season and, for the sake of comparison, Brodeur was 39-18-6 through the Devils’ first 66 games that season.
Follow Lisa Dillman on Twitter @reallisa
Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report.