First there was Dmitrij Jaskin reaching an arm over to his back and yanking the figurative monkey off of it. And then there was Travis Boyd’s triumphant scream as he pumped a fist, images of another memorable night for the Washington Capitals' fourth line. Boyd had scored the first goal of his NHL career when captain Alex Ovechkin fed him on a two-on-one, and Jaskin had scored his first goal of the season, and his first with the Capitals, when a puck bounced off his foot and past Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
“I’ll take it any day,” Jaskin said.
The Capitals will, too. There’s not much to nitpick for a team coming off a Stanley Cup championship, especially with a near-identical roster, but with Washington’s fourth line experiencing the most turnover, the Capitals identified that as a unit they’d like to see assume a different identity. A fourth line’s top priority is to prevent goals, but with the NHL as skilled and as deep as it’s ever been, even a fourth line must chip in offense on occasion. With a faster fourth trio than in years past, the Capitals are starting to get consistent contributions with five goals in the past four games.
“For me, I like to make plays, and I like to be an offensive guy,” Boyd said. “At the same time though, I understand that the role I’m in right now, which kind of means you can’t really turn too many pucks over and all that stuff. But when the opportunity is there to make plays, go out there and make them. You can’t be afraid. Overall, I think the last couple games, we’ve been making some plays, and luckily enough, we’ve been burying them. That makes our team a lot more dangerous.”
Before Tom Wilson suffered a concussion in the Capitals' game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, Boyd had been a healthy scratch for three straight games, pushed out of the lineup when Evgeny Kuznetsov was cleared to play after missing six games with a concussion. With longtime center Jay Beagle departing for Vancouver in free agency, Boyd and offseason acquistion Nic Dowd had vied to replace Beagle on the fourth line. Boyd got hurt in the preseason, so the job initially went to Dowd, but in the month since Boyd made his season debut, the two alternated in and out of the lineup. With both Wilson and T.J. Oshie out, there’s currently room for both on the fourth line.
“When you’re out, you kind of look back and think about what you could’ve done differently to stay in,” Boyd said. “Ultimately, when you get the chance to come back in the lineup, you just try to have a positive impact on the game. Luckily, the last two games, my line’s been pretty good.”
Boyd has a goal and two assists in the past two games, and as a strong skater, he was initially seen as the more offensively inclined option between he and Dowd. But after Dowd scored just three goals and one assist in 56 games last season, he’s already eclipsed that with four goals and four assists in 25 games. Injuries have depleted the forward corps over the past month, causing the fourth line’s personnel to change frequently, but since Nov. 14, Dowd and Jaskin have been constants. Whenever those two have been on the ice together since, the Capitals have taken roughly 55 percent of the shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Jaskin was waived by the St. Louis Blues before the season and Washington then claimed him. He’s regarded as a shot-suppressing, defensive specialist, but the Capitals were hopeful to see the offensive upside he flashed four seasons ago, when he scored 13 goals in 54 games. While he’s arguably played better than his production reflects, he has just six points this season, and four of them have come in the past six games, when the fourth line seemed to turn a corner and started scoring more.
With Oshie seemingly nearing a return from a concussion that’s caused him to miss the past 11 games, the fourth line could get shaken up once again. But as the Capitals depth has been tested of late, the fourth line has more than passed, proving it can provide an occasional offensive spark. Of the current trio, just Boyd was on the Stanley Cup-winning roster last season, and the additions of Jaskin and Dowd alongside him could have Washington even deeper than it was a year ago.
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