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Oshie's stellar play provides balance on the top line


Oshie's stellar play provides balance on the top line

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."

RELATED: Why Ovechkin is rooting for Kane to keep streak going

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.”

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby bails out Caps with 44 saves

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.


A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.


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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.