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Why a move to the third line could be just what Oshie needs to spark his offense


Why a move to the third line could be just what Oshie needs to spark his offense

It has been a struggle for T.J. Oshie since his return from a concussion. Heading into Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Blues, Oshie had logged just a single point in seven games. To try and spark his production, Barry Trotz put Oshie on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. It didn’t work. What did work, however, was the move Trotz made during the game.

With the top line floundering, Trotz elected to move Devante Smith-Pelly back onto the top, replacing Oshie. Oshie took Smith-Pelly’s spot on the third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. That's when he finally seemed to find his rhythm.

“Everything just seemed to click,” Oshie said after practice on Monday. “To tell you the truth, it was a lot of fun there in the last half of the game playing with those guys. We were buzzing, I think we were buzzing out here again today.”


Oshie recorded two primary assists in Sunday’s 4-3 win including an assist on the overtime winner. For the first time in a long time, he finally looked like his old self on the ice.

“I thought [Oshie] was really good today,” Trotz said Sunday after the game. “I thought Lars Eller was really good. We made that flip. It was an easy flip, just the first and third line with [Smith-Pelly] because [Smith-Pelly] had been playing there. I just think it freed us up a little bit.”

Connolly, Eller and Oshie remained as a line on Monday in practice and are expected to stay together for Tuesday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.

The third line was able to find success not just because of their instant chemistry, but because the line was able to get favorable defensive matchups.

With the Blues focusing on shutting down the Caps’ first and second line, they were not prepared for a third line with as much scoring potential as the Caps showed.

“I thought [St. Louis was] getting sort of good matchups where we were just nullifying each other and I think by, what we did was sort of spread it out and it created a little more sustainability,” Trotz said.


A third line with Oshie presents one more matchup for opposing defenses to account for. Shutting them down will be a difficult task if they continue to play with the same chemistry they found on Sunday.

Said Oshie, “Judging by how we played and how it was today and us being on the same line today, I think it's definitely something that could stick and I think that will give us another element and depth.”

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."


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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.