Wednesday’s victory over the Philadelphia Flyers was not just another regular season win. It was a significant night not because it saw the Capitals return from a lengthy break with a win, something they have struggled with of late; not because it was a regulation win over a division team in a crowded Metropolitan race and not because it was Washington’s first win over the Flyers this season.
Wednesday’s win was important because it saw not one, not two, but three players in the midst of offensive slumps hit the back of the net.
“Obviously, it's big,” Braden Holtby said. “This time of the year, we're going to need big performances from different guys in order to win consistently. We got that tonight.”
“That's the key is getting contributions right through your lineup,” Barry Trotz said. “When we're getting that we're usually pretty dangerous.”
Heading into Wednesday night, Chandler Stephenson had not scored a goal in 28 straight games and had only one point in his last 14. Andre Burakovsky had only three goals this season and had not scored since a two-goal performance in Dallas on Dec. 19. T.J. Oshie saw a hot start to the season evaporate after a concussion forced him out of the lineup. After scoring 10 goals in his first 28 games this season, he managed only one goal in the 15 games he played since returning.
All three, however, managed to score on Wednesday. Their relief was evident.
After his goal in the third period, Oshie turned his eyes and his arms skyward in a celebration of both joy and relief.
“That was a little dramatic,” he said of his reaction. “I actually thought about that 10 games ago that I was going to do that and then 10 games later, finally got the chance.”
Every goal in a game is important, but when a team sees a player’s hard work finally rewarded, those goals have a way of boosting the team's momentum. That was the effect Stephenson had when he took a 2-0 deficit and tied the game at 2 in one shift in the second period.
“I think it was very good for him,” Lars Eller said. “He's been in and out of the lineup a little bit here lately. … He's versatile, you can put him in different spots in different lines and he always contributes, but today he got rewarded with two goals so he deserved it.”
“He's just so sound defensively that I think he's still finding his way to figure out where he can use his speed,” Holtby said, “And he found that tonight which is a great quality to have in a young guy that thinks defense first and working that way out. He's been outstanding for us.”
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Stephenson had only two NHL goals to his name. He doubled that career total in a span of 47 seconds in the first multi-goal game of his career.
“It's a little bit of a relief,” he said. “It's kind of the monkey off your back, but you don't try to think about it too much that I've got to score this game or anything like that. You just try to help the team out as much as you can.”
The big game comes in the wake of a conversation Stephenson had with Trotz in which the coach stressed the importance of contributing offensively as well as what he does on the defensive end of the ice.
“Actually we had a little talk [Tuesday]," Trotz said. “[Stephenson’s] done a lot of good things and he's moved around a little bit, but just felt that he could contribute offensively a little bit more, just not settle for getting minutes and all that. It was good to see him contribute.”
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Contributions from Stephenson, Burakovsky and Oshie helped the Caps get the win on Wednesday, but really this game will only be significant if it serves as a spark for all three to begin contributing with a bit more regularity.
The Caps have had their fair share of offensive slumps this season and still need to find a way to get more consistent scoring from players like Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal in 14 games), Jakub Vrana (no goals in 16 games), Jay Beagle (1 goal in 20 games) and Tom Wilson (1 goal in 20 games).
Consistent production from Stephenson, Burakovsky and Oshie will provide some welcome relief for an offense that has been carried largely by Alex Ovechkin this season.
“If we can continue to just get production up and down the lineup, it'll be huge,” Trotz said. “Those guys are going to be big factors for us coming into the year.”