“If that one didn’t go in, I don’t know,” Oshie said. “I don’t know what would’ve happened.”
The goal ended a drought of 19 games, and it was his first even-strength tally since Dec. 21, a span of 33 games. After he scored a career-high 33 goals in 68 games last season, earning an eight-year, $46 million deal with the Capitals, this season has gone poorly for Oshie. He suffered the fourth concussion of his career in early December and just hasn’t looked quite right since then. But lately, Oshie had been getting the chances without getting rewarded — the most snakebit member of the team until Thursday night. In Washington’s 7-3 win, Oshie scored two goals, adding an empty-netter at the end.
“I’m hoping that he hits a stride at the right time,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s such a key player for us that, if he can hit stride at the right time, that might just give us a real good bump up here.”
Trotz made a slight lineup adjustment before the game. While center Evgeny Kuznetsov’s line with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson had been playing well, Trotz wanted more production from his middle-six forward corps. He moved Oshie and Burakovsky onto a line with center Nicklas Backstrom, a trio that had success playing together in the second round of the playoffs last season. For one game at least, the chemistry returned: Oshie and Burakovsky scored five-on-five goals, and Backstrom added a power-play tally.
But this sort of performance from Oshie seemed to be building even before the change. He had five shots on goal against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, finding new and painful ways not to score in that game. There were opportunities he had lamented in the two games before that, too. Entering Thursday night’s game, Oshie had four five-on-five goals, fewest among Capitals forwards.
“T.J.’s had a year where I think he probably would say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to do more on the five-on-five and have a little more production there,’ ” Trotz said. “I thought he was skating today. He was competing. He looked like the T.J. I know, and I was really happy for him.”
Said Oshie: “I’ve been working pretty hard lately this last month and definitely these last couple of weeks here, trying to get my game where it needs to go. I’ve been moving my feet a lot lately. It’s just nice to get rewarded tonight for some of that hard work, where in other games, the puck really wasn’t coming to my stick in those scoring areas. It felt nice.”
Consistent production from Oshie going into the playoffs would be a bonus for the Capitals, who have leaned on Ovechkin for roughly 20 percent of their goal output all season as they’ve stayed atop the Metropolitan Division. A down season would be quickly forgiven with a strong postseason.
“He’s obviously a goal scorer — that’s what I think he is,” Backstrom said.
“I feel like I’m starting to get into those scoring areas more without having to really think about it,” Oshie said. “It’s coming a little bit more naturally which, for a while there, I really had to focus on it and think about what I was doing out there. The game is coming to me more naturally, which is a lot more fun playing that way.”
The Capitals are holding an optional morning skate Friday, so here’s a guess at how they might look against the New York Islanders in the teams’ second game of this home-and-home back-to-back:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Scratched: Alex Chiasson, Travis Boyd
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos
Scratched: Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek
Braden Holtby (starter)