With all eyes on Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for Monday's game in Pittsburgh, it was a newcomer to the rivalry who stole the show.
While the Penguins managed to hold Ovechkin off the score sheet, they had no answer for T.J. Oshie who contributed with two goals and one assist to lead the Caps.
"Rivalry games are definitely fun to play in," Oshie said.
After getting traded from St. Louis in the offseason to play on the top line beside Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie struggled to develop chemistry with his star linemates. Monday's game showed just how far he has come in the first two months of the season.
"They’ve played enough games now where Osh knows when he can make a play," head coach Barry Trotz said. "He’s got good patience. The line is turning into three guys."
That was evident on the game's first goal.
Early in the first period, Oshie broke into the offensive zone with the puck. Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin was close on his heels leaving Oshie with no room to work. Oshie suddnely turned on the breaks and fired a backhand pass to a streaking Backstrom who beat Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Caps the 1-0 lead.
It was a play that demonstrated a level of chemistry that wasn't there at the start of the season.
“It’s coming around," Oshie said. "Hopefully, it can continue to build."
Oshie struggled to start the season as he continually deferred to Ovechkin and Backstrom, something that has been an issue for the top line in the past. That was not a problem on Monday as Oshie's aggressiveness led to him netting two goals of his own.
With the Caps on their heels, clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period, Backstrom carried the puck into the offensive zone, passed it off to Oshie and headed to the front of the net. Instead of passing it to a covered Backstrom in front, Oshie instead went for the wraparound, catching Fleury off guard. The Penguins' goalie did not even move until after Oshie had tucked in the empty netter off the wraparound.
"It looked like [Fleury] got stuck somehow maybe or he was just staying on the post so I felt like I had time to get around," Oshie said.
It's likely not a play he would have made at the start of the season.
Oshie did his best Ovechkin impression scoring with a one-timer from the circle on the power play to ice the game away at 4-1.
What was really impressive about Oshie's play on Monday was what did not show up in the box score.
"Even when he’s not getting the points you see what a dynamic player he is and the smart plays he makes behind the play," Jay Beagle said.
"He’s really good," Trotz said. "He dogs the puck and he wins those battles. He’s getting rewarded for his hard work."
Oshie's level of effort really showed on the power play as his constant pressure on Pittsburgh's penalty killers generated turnovers and prevented the Penguins from clearing the zone. With no Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward or Eric Fehr this season, there was some worry that the Caps would lose some of their physicality this season, but Oshie's physical play has the Caps playing just as physically as ever.
What's scary for the rest of the NHL is that, after only two months together, the Caps' top line is only going to get better.
"We haven’t had our best games yet, I don’t think," Oshie said. "But [Monday] was a step in the right direction.”
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