After the puck went in — correction: finally went in — T.J. Oshie tilted back his head, looked up at the Capital One Arena ceiling and raised both arms.
Okay, so he planned the celebration 10 games ago and wanted it to be over the top. But the fact that it took 10 games for him to unleash it made the theatrics a bit more believable.
“That was a little dramatic,” Oshie admitted through a smile after the Capitals’ 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night.
But was it also indicative of the relief he felt after ending a 13-game scoring drought?
“You want to be able to help the team,” Oshie said. “And sometimes you need a little confirmation by putting one in the back of the net, and I think that’s what happened for me tonight.”
The Capitals ended three scoring slumps in the win, each varying in length. Chandler Stephenson scored for the first time in 28 games, then scored another goal 47 seconds later on the same shift. Andre Burakovsky got his first goal in nine games on a power play late in the second period. Oshie scratched the scoreboard for the first time in 13 contests with a power-play goal in the third.
These were all good signs for the Capitals — perhaps hinting that perhaps Oshie and Burakovsky are ready to break loose — and they reinforced two intangible truths about hockey: Scoring is contagious, and ending droughts can provide a mental lift.
“Well, I think it builds some confidence because we’ve had some guys who have been a little bit dry,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Obviously I was happy for Andre, happy for (Oshie); it’s been a while. I think that’s the key, getting contributions right through the lineup. When we’re doing that, we’re usually pretty dangerous.”
Recognizing Oshie and Burakovsky was praise well-earned. Both are top-six forwards who have underachieved this season, and it would mean a lot for the Capitals if they can find a rhythm in the final 32 games of the regular season. Oshie scored a career-high 25 even-strength goals last season and led the NHL in shot percentage at 23.1. This season, he has just four even-strength goals, and his shot percentage is down to 14.3. Burakovsky missed 20 games after breaking his thumb in the first half of the season, took a while to regain his form and is still looking to fully do so as the Capitals (30-15-5) defend their perch atop the Metropolitan Division. He has three goals and six assists in 24 appearances.
But the drought-ending goal could mean something else for Stephenson, a defensive-minded forward whom Trotz wants to see get more involved in the offense. Stephenson had just two goals in 49 career games heading into Wednesday, then doubled that total in a 47-second stretch early in the second period. Seeing the puck go into the net may convince Stephenson that ventures into the offensive zone could prove fruitful as he continues to round out his game.
“It’s a little bit of a relief,” Stephenson said. “It’s kind of the monkey off your back. But you try not to think about it too much, that ‘I’ve got to score this game’ or anything like that. Just try to help the team out as much as you can.”
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