In an effort to jumpstart T.J. Oshie, Coach Barry Trotz reunited the star winger with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the Caps’ top line Wednesday.
Trotz said he hasn’t decided if the move will stick—the team doesn’t play again until Sunday—but it’s clear he’s trying to get Oshie going again.
Oshie hit the ice earlier than most of his teammates Wednesday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to get in some extra stickhandling and shooting reps. After a few minutes, Trotz skated over to Oshie and the two had a long talk along the boards.
“He told me I was going with the big two guys, and I told him that I thought Devo and Tom probably deserved to play there,” Oshie said, referring to Devante Smith-Pelly and Tom Wilson, both of whom have played well on the right side of the first line this season.
With 11 goals, Oshie sits third on the Caps behind Ovechkin (26) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (12). But it’s been a bit of a struggle of lately. In fact, he’s got just one point—a goal—since returning from a concussion seven games ago. Against New Jersey last Saturday, he played a season-low 12:10—3:30 off his season average.
“Things aren’t really going my way right now; I’m not really playing my best,” Oshie said. “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 never hurts.”
After practice, Oshie said he thought his first practice back with Ovechkin and Backstrom went smoothly. But he also expressed disappointment over the fact that he couldn’t find chemistry with Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana on the second line.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Oshie said. “We’re three pretty good players [and] we couldn’t figure a way to bring some offense to the team. But fortunately for us, a lot of other guys are playing really well right.”
Moving Oshie up to the first line wasn’t the only change on the right side of the forward combos. Oshie bumped Smith-Pelly down to the third line, while Wilson moved up to the second. (Earlier this week, Trotz mentioned how Wilson has sparked every line he’s joined this season, so perhaps he’s hoping No. 43 can kick-start Kuznetsov and Vrana, as well.)
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New #Caps lines: 8-19-77; 13-92-43; 10-20-25; and 18-83-39. Trotz clearly trying to spark Oshie AND the second line. Meantime, Burkakovsky still skating as an extra.— Tarik El-Bashir⌨️🎙🏒 (@TarikNBCS) January 3, 2018
Will the changes have the desired effect? Will Trotz even stick with them until the next game? Because the Caps don’t play again until St. Louis comes to town for a matinee on Sunday, that all remains unclear. But we could get a strong indication of Trotz’s thought process on Thursday. Indeed, if Oshie practices on the top line again, that’s likely where he’ll play against the Blues.
Trotz has in recent days acknowledged that Oshie has “had a couple games that were not Oshie-like.” On Wednesday, however, he attempted to downplay the decision to reunite Oshie with Ovechkin and Backstrom, adding that he’s not overly concerned about the 31-year-old’s play.
“That was just for practice,” Trotz said. “We’re just looking at different things.”
He added: “He’s an absolute pro in what he’s doing. Just like anything, they all work their way through stuff. That’s why they’re good. That’s the process. …I’m not too worried about Osh.”
Oshie also sounded confident that he’ll be able to find his own way out of this dry spell, just as he’s done previously over the course of his 10-year NHL career.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said of the lines. “I’m not too worried about it, though. We’ve still got a long ways to go. It’s not the first time I went a couple of games without scoring. Still having fun, still working hard.”