Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
T.J. Oshie had a tough stretch going into Sunday afternoon’s game with the St. Louis Blues, with just two points in his previous 10 games, and one point in his last eight games. It was a relatively quiet month of December for Oshie and he battled some upper-body injury adversity along the way. After not recording a single point in the previous five games, head coach Barry Trotz made a roster move looking to increase Oshie’s production.
After spending much of the season on the second-line, recently paired with the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana, Trotz placed Oshie on the top-line during Wednesday’s practice where he would be reunited with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. This move came after Oshie and Trotz had a lengthy on-ice conversation prior to the start of practice.
“Things aren’t really going my way right now, I’m not playing my best but I’m working hard and doing a lot of the little things good so we’ll see. I’m sure playing with those two guys (Ovechkin and Backstrom) never hurts,” Oshie told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “I think it’s a little frustrating me, V (Jakub Vrana), and Kuzy (Evgeny Kuznetsov) being pretty good players, we couldn’t figure out a way to bring some offense to the team but fortunately for us a lot of other guys are playing really well right now.”
Fortunately for Oshie, he had three practice sessions to get re-acquainted with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Oshie was paired with the two of them last season in a year that saw him score a career-high 33 goals. Oshie looked to make an impact in the Capitals’ Sunday matinee against his former team, the St. Louis Blues. While Oshie didn’t find the back of the net, he did record two assists and helped set up what would ultimately be the game-winning goal in overtime.
“Osh is always determined. Sometimes the puck doesn’t go your way, if bounces don’t, it happens. But with Osh, you’re always getting an effort. He’s contributing in ways other than the scoresheet if he’s not getting on it. He’s one of those guys you don’t have to worry about,” Braden Holtby told the media after the game. “Obviously he’s frustrated. He wants to score and be effective every night but as a teammate, he shows up every single night. It’s kind of funny when he gets frustrated like that because he does so many good things on the ice.”
With the Capitals trailing 2-1 in the second period, Trotz decided to take the lines and toss them into a blender. Devante Smith-Pelly would join Ovechkin and Backstrom while Oshie was placed on the third-line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.
In the third period, the Capitals tied it at two on a power play goal by Ovechkin and would go ahead 3-2 at 10:49. Oshie came down the ice and shot the puck off of Carter Hutton’s right pad where Eller was there to bang it home.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 7, 2018
Like Oshie, Eller too began his career with the St. Louis Blues. So two former Blues players connected on that goal.
“I didn’t think of it when I scored it but it always feels good doing that against your old team for sure, that’s no secret. And good for him (Oshie) too,” said Eller.
The Blues would force overtime on a late third period goal by Carl Gunnarsson. In the three-on-three overtime, Backstrom and John Carlson pressured Blues forward Colton Parayko, causing him to lose his stick. After Patrik Berglund tried to dump the puck back in the Capitals’ zone, the puck hit the fallen stick that belonged to Parayko. Oshie pounced on the puck and found Backstrom deep down the ice. Backstrom would send the fans home happy.
“I knew the pass was coming so… nice to get a breakaway for once and nice to score too,” said Backstrom.
With two points against his former team (which snapped a five-game point streak), there’s nowhere to go but up for Oshie. Trotz told the media after the game that he saw the good old version of Oshie Sunday afternoon.
“The biggest thing that I noticed with Osh today as the game went on that more and more of that doggedness that he has in his game.. he hounds pucks, he stays, keeps plays alive. Very intelligent player. He knew exactly what he was doing on Lars’ goal, he was gonna play that off the pads and I just thought that was the old Osh. He was just playing and being a hockey player and winning every battle,” said Trotz.
Oshie and the Capitals get back to work on Monday for practice before hosting the Canucks on Tuesday, which will begin a three-games in four-night stretch before the bye week. Don’t be surprised to see Oshie light the lamp during one of those games now that he’s starting to get his confidence back.
By Michael Marzzacco