T.J. Oshie’s season, by most measures, hasn’t gone to plan.
He’s played in just 29 of the team’s 67 games this year due to an assortment of injuries, most recently a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup since March 17. But in a return to the ice Saturday in a 4-3 win over the Devils, the Capitals got one of their central pieces back in the lineup, one they’ll need down the stretch heading to the playoffs.
With just 15 games left to play before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, it seems obvious that a player who is on a .69 point-per-game pace this season, that plays both power play and penalty kill minutes, would be beneficial to have in the lineup. But with Oshie on the ice, the Capitals get a scoring touch that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
“First period was a little rough,” Oshie said postgame. “You know if there was an iso cam on me, my timing, my hands weren’t great so I just decided to start throwing the body around and try to make a difference and it got better as the game went on definitely.”
With a bevy of injuries this year, he’s left the lineup for a stretch of time after having just returned to it. That has, occasionally, thrown his rhythm off.
“It is different with each injury,” Oshie said of his timing when returning to the ice. “This time I was able to skate quite a bit. Last time I didn’t skate at all so coming back from the last one was more legs getting under me, conditioning. This time was more just fast-paced timing, they obviously got a fast team over there so we got one under my belt here so shoot for two and go from there.”
Notably, with both Oshie and Anthony Mantha in the lineup this season, the Capitals are 11-0-4. That’s certainly not a coincidence, as when they’re in the lineup together, the rest of the forward combinations make more sense. Players like Conor Sheary and Tom Wilson, who have 20 and 16 goals this season, respectively, can become third line players, which in turn spreads the scoring throughout the lineup.
Oshie’s return wasn’t perfect, something he admitted himself. But with just a month left until the playoffs begin, keeping him healthy and in the lineup will be paramount to whatever success the Capitals have come May.
“I thought he looked good, and I thought he got better as the game went on,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “The second period, laid a couple big hits and got going and made some plays. It’s tough when you’re out and you’re coming in and you’re playing a quick team like that. But I thought he did a good job.”
The night of course belonged to Nicklas Backstrom, who was honored for scoring 1,000 career points and with a goal in the third period, sent giveaway foam apples commemorating his milestone down to the ice.
But on a more long-term outlook, the Capitals will need everyone available and in the lineup down the stretch if they want to make a run up the standings. And that very well could start with Oshie.
“I think we have a veteran team and I think we are starting to get a little more conviction with how our game has to look through 60 minutes,” Oshie said. “I think I wasn’t there for a lot of the January, February so I can’t necessarily tell you , I wasn’t there in the emotion in the games and what was going on but it does feel like we are starting to come into our own and feeling comfortable and confident in our game and just sticking with it for those 60 minutes.”