“I don’t think anyone in here is worried about [Ovechkin] not scoring,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “But it is good that we have other guys stepping up and other guys feeling the puck and other guys getting rewarded for their hard work. That’s important. We want confidence throughout the lineup offensively going into the postseason here, so that’s something that hopefully we can get on a more consistent basis.”
After 19 games without a goal, Oshie has three in his past two games. Rookie Jakub Vrana went 25 games over more than two months without a goal and was even a healthy scratch for a handful of games, but he has three goals and two assists in the past seven games. After Andre Burakovsky had a miserable start to the season, suffering a broken thumb just nine games in, he has seemingly found his scoring touch with five goals in his past 16 games. Washington also got goals from three defensemen — John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov — over the past two games.
Expectations should be tempered — the Islanders are the league’s worst defensive team — but a more even distribution of goals was a fixture of the Capitals’ success last season. And even with the offseason departures of top-six forwards Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, the team was never expected to be as top-heavy as it has been. Ovechkin has twice as many goals as the team’s next leading goal scorer, Evgeny Kuznetsov. In a potential blow for Washington, Kuznetsov suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury late in the second period Friday, when he was slashed and then collided awkwardly with the boards, crunching his left arm. Coach Barry Trotz didn’t have an update on the severity of the injury after the game.
If Kuznetsov, (21 goals, 50 assists) has to miss any length of time, production from players not named Ovechkin becomes even more important. The Capitals have just a two-point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the division.
“For the most part this year, we’ve had some guys go on long dry spells, and Ovi’s been the consistency to our equation of winning hockey games,” Trotz said. “We’re going to score on the power play, or Ovi’s going to score or a chip in from someone else. But there’s been some dry spells, and right now everybody’s sort of getting on the mark here.”
Some lineup tweaks by Trotz seemed to trigger the offensive outbursts. Before Thursday’s game in New York, Trotz reunited Oshie and Burakovsky with center Nicklas Backstrom, a trio that hasn’t played much together this season but enjoyed success in the second round of the playoffs a year ago. In the small sample size of the past two games, that line has scored two five-on-five goals, and the Capitals have taken 60 percent of the shot attempts when those three have been on the ice together, according to Natural Stat Trick.
In the second game of the back-to-back set, Trotz made a few lineup substitutions because he felt some players had “fallen off a little bit” and he wanted to “create some competition within the group.” Depth forward Alex Chiasson had been a healthy scratch for six of the past seven games, and Trotz played him over forward Brett Connolly on the Capitals’ third line with center Lars Eller. Chiasson assured himself at least one more game in the lineup with a three-point performance, including his first goal since Jan. 2.
“Made a statement not only to me but to everybody else that ‘I want to stay in the lineup,’ ” Trotz said.
“Maybe with two or three minutes left in the third, I kind of sat there and gave myself a tap on the back for the hard work and keeping the positivity,” Chiasson said. “This time of the year, for a guy who’s been in and out of the lineup lately, to come up with a performance like that, I’ll be ready to go next game.”