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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 4 T.J. Oshie

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 4 T.J. Oshie

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 4 T.J. Oshie

Brian MacLellan had a tough choice at the end of the season. With several key players on expiring contracts and the team facing a serious cap crunch, who if anyone would the team try to re-sign? Coming off a season in which he was tied for the team lead with 33 goals despite playing in only 68 games, Oshie was poised to be one of the most sought after free agents this summer. But even if MacLellan wanted him, could he even afford to re-sign him?

The answer was a resound...sort of. Oshie did indeed re-sign with Washington and at a fairly modest cap hit of $5.75 million, but it took an eight-year deal to get him which is a steep price for a player already 30 years old. Whether the team ends up regretting that contract in the later years of the deal remains to be seen, but the good news is the Caps get one of their top playmakers back in the lineup for this season.

Oshie's 33 goals last season were a career-high. It was the first time since 2004 that Alex Ovechkin was not the team's sole leader in goals. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Capitals lost a lot of goal production in the offseason and will need Oshie to continue to produce at the same level he did last year.

We have talked a lot in this countdown about players the Caps are hoping can help make up for the 48 goals they lost from their lineup with Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams' departure. That number, however, assumes Oshie is still scoring 30+ goals. Last season was the first and only time Oshie has managed to pass the 30-goal mark in his career. His previous career high was 26 which he set in his first year in Washington.

Clearly, Oshie has thrived with the Caps, but the team is still asking a player who is about to turn 31 to continue producing at a career-high level.

But Oshie's impact is about more than just numbers.

Prior to the injury problems he faced last season, Oshie was the team's MVP. He was an emotional leader on the ice and someone the team could count on to give 100-percent on each and every shift. For a team with young prospects, Oshie is the kind of person a coach can point to and tell his prospects that is the level of effort that is expected each and every night.

Oshie was a player MacLellan determined the team could not afford to lose this offseason. Whether the contract haunts them is a question for the future. For now, the Caps need Oshie to keep playing at the elite level he has played in his first two seasons in Washington.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen
— No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov

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Philipp Grubauer earns his long-awaited first win of the season after another strong performance

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USA TODAY Sports

Philipp Grubauer earns his long-awaited first win of the season after another strong performance

Less than 90 seconds in, Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning very much had a feeling of déjà vu.

With Phillipp Grubauer getting the start against the best team in the league, the Caps took a penalty just 44 seconds into the game. Grubauer failed to freeze the puck on two different opportunities allowing the Lightning to keep the puck in play and score the early goal to go up 1-0.

“I thought early, they score a minute basically into the game and you're like, OK here we go,” Barry Trotz said.

“I was laughing, here I go again,” Grubauer said.

RELATED: 3 REASONS WHY THE CAPS BEAT THE LIGHTNING

Wins have been hard to come by for Grubauer this season. Coming into Fridays’ game, he had none. An early goal against a team as good as the Lightning could have been a backbreaker.

But not this time.

Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1 in the first period and that’s when Grubauer took over.

“When it was 1-1, I thought Gruby made some real key saves for us,” Trotz said.

 

He added, “They were getting people to the net and they were dangerous all around. He made some real huge saves for us and we got him more than a goal.”

For the first time since Grubauer’s first start this season back on Oct. 9, the Caps gave Grubauer a lead to protect in the second period courtesy of Devante Smith-Pelly. That not only gave Grubauer confidence, it also allowed his teammates to focus more on playing well in front of him rather than taking chances in the offensive zone in search of a goal.

Bottling up a team as explosive and talented as the Lightning is not easy, but Grubauer was up to the task.

Friday’s 3-1 win was Grubauer’s first of the season. His record now sits at 1-5-1, a record his teammates know is not reflective of how well he has played for them.​

MORE CAPITALS: TARIK'S 3 STARS OF CAPS-LIGHTNING

“I know the guys are thrilled to get a win for Gruby because they know he shows up as a pro every game,” Trotz said.

That was evident after the game as Grubauer's teammates were effusive in their praise for the German netminder.

“Not an easy position to be a backup goalie and he's kept a good attitude throughout this even though we haven't played well in front of him,” Matt Niskanen said.

 

It was hard to figure out afterward just who this game meant more to, whether it was Grubauer whose family is in town for his birthday Saturday and who was in attendance Friday, or his teammates.

“My parents were here so I'm really, really proud to give them a good game and get the win for the boys,” Grubauer said.

Said Niskanen, “Everyone's smiles were a little bit bigger today for him. He played really well. He earned it.”

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Lightning

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USA TODAY Sports

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Lightning

The Caps started a daunting back-to-back on a high note with a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday. Tampa scored first, but the Caps would score the next three goals to earn the win.

Here's why Washington won.

A good response to Tampa’s early goal

When Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1 late in the first period, it felt inevitable. Tampa Bay took an early 1-0 lead off a power play goal by Vladislav Namestnikov. Rather than spark the Lightning, however, it seemed to wake the Caps’ up from their turkey coma. When Tampa scored, they held an early 3-0 shots-on-goal advantage over Washington. For the rest of the period, the Caps outshot the Bolts 16-4. Ovechkin was a man on a mission as he was all over the ice. In recent weeks, we have seen the Caps at times lack energy at the start of games, but their response to Tampa’s early goal was impressive.

RELATED: TARIK'S 3 STARS IN CAPS' WIN OVER BOLTS

Caps gave Philipp Grubauer a lead to protect

It's been rare this season for Grubauer to protect a lead. So rare in fact that it has not happened since his first start of the season on Oct. 9 which also came against the Lightning. When you are playing from behind, the skaters have to take more chances offensively which can sometimes leave goalies out to dry. Grubauer knows all about that from some of his recent games. When the Caps took a 2-1 lead on Friday, defense became the priority and Grubauer played with a level of confidence we have not seen since his strong performance in a 2-1 loss to Calgary.

Philipp Grubauer

While the Caps could afford to give Grubauer more defensive help as they protected the 2-1 lead, Grubauer himself made some top-notch stops to earn his first win of the season. After a shaky start in which he failed to freeze the puck on two opportunities allowing Tampa to keep the puck in play and score the power play goal, Grubauer was dominant in the crease. He made two especially key saves as he stoned Ondrej Palat in the second period on a one-timer from the slot and denied Vladislav Namestnikov in close midway through the third when a blue line shot from Anton Stralman was deflected behind the defense right to Namestnikov's stick.

MORE CAPITALS: THE CAPS' PRESENCE WAS FELT AT THE REDSKINS' THANKSGIVING GAME