Capitals

Capitals

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — Travis Boyd dreamed about making the Capitals’ opening-night roster, but fate had a different path in mind when a shot struck him in the left foot during a preseason game on Sept. 25. 
 
Eight days away from his goal, Boyd instead donned a protective boot and watched as his team played the first 12 games of the season without him. In the end, the wait was worth it. 
 
Boyd had two assists Monday in a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Capital One Arena and helped Washington’s revamped fourth line contribute. Jakub Vrana, unceremoniously dropped from the first line after a bad game Saturday against Dallas, responded with a goal and Devante Smith-Pelly added a goal and an assist. 
 
“To be completely honest I wasn’t coming into the game hoping to score or hoping to get a point,” Boyd said. “I just wanted to feel comfortable, get back to the game reads, get back to the speed of the game. Just a bonus that our line was able to pop a couple tonight.” 
 
Boyd spent almost five weeks on long-term injured reserve, itching to get back on the ice. Meanwhile, Vrana was still smarting from the Dallas loss, when a few turnovers drew the ire of the coaching staff. Smith-Pelly has primarily spent his time on the fourth line after a brief, unproductive stint with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov on the top line last month. All three had something to prove. It didn’t take them long to do so Monday. 
 
Vrana opened the scoring by keeping a puck in the offensive zone and then driving hard into the open space in front of Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot. Smith-Pelly won a battle in the corner and fed a pass out front that Vrana snapped home for a 1-0 lead just 2:44 into the game. It was a good indication that the 22-year-old had put the Stars game behind him. 
 
"When you have a tough game like I had the game before, I try to just throw that behind me and just focus looking forward and focus on the next game,” Vrana said. “Get my confidence back and now this game is behind me and I have a new battle in front of me."
 
That might not have happened for Vrana during an up-and-down regular season last year. 
 
“It shows he cares,” Smith-Pelly said. “It shows maybe he’s maturing a little bit. Maybe last year he would get down if this happened. But he’s confident. He knows he’s a good player. He’s going to be back in the top six eventually. He just has to do it.”
 
It didn’t hurt that Vrana and Boyd had played together for almost two full seasons at AHL Hershey. It had been a while, but they showed some of that old chemistry. Washington’s second goal came because of Boyd’s strength on the puck. He jumped onto a loose puck in the slot, held off an Oilers defenseman and dropped a pass to Smith-Pelly, who ripped a shot past Talbot as Boyd jumped out of the way. That made it 2-0 at 5:44 and the fourth line had the Caps off and running. 
 
The Oilers pulled to within 2-1 and 3-2, but goals by T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin kept Washington in front. 
 
The stars haven’t been an issue for the Caps so far this season. Ovechkin had his 11thgoal. John Carlson had two assists. Nick Backstrom’s assist on Oshie’s goal was gorgeous. Evgeny Kuznetsov added another assist. That’s four of the top 32 point scorers in the NHL so far in 2018-19 and Oshie is just outside the top 50 with seven goals and five assists. But others are needed. Monday the fourth line delivered.  
 
“That worked out well,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Something we were looking for in particular against this opponent and even moving forward into Wednesday [against Pittsburgh], just having four lines that could provide different elements to them. I just really loved the response by Vrana. He and Boyd have had some chemistry in the past playing together. Smith-Pelly had a real strong game as well. That's what you need.” 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: