One day, Reirden saw Oshie at the rink and told him, “Hey, I think you’re smart enough to create stuff and done a good job, and if there is ever anything you want help with or suggestions, just don’t hesitate to ask.”
Oshie texted him that night: “Hey, if you have any suggestions, I’m definitely open.”
Soon, the two got together and looked at players around the league who play a style similar to Oshie’s, breaking down exactly how they were creating scoring opportunities. Reirden put together some analytics and a video package that featured Joe Pavelski, a 35-year-old now with the Dallas Stars who can score 30-plus goals in a season just by being around the net.
That style of play, Reirden said, is what Oshie needed to emulate this season to increase his scoring chances. So far, it has worked: He has a team-leading six goals through nine games.
“I think he’s doing a better job of working from the net out as opposed to working from out in,” Reirden said. “I think that has allowed him to create a bit of space for himself so he can either converge on rebounds more, tip pucks away from the net and actually just re-continue to reinvent himself as a player.”
Oshie always has had the confidence to score, he said, but he wasn’t allowing himself to get consistent opportunities because he was playing a “little too perimeter.” In the offseason, Oshie realized the bulk of his scoring was more off the rush and cycling, but he wasn’t happy with his play around the net.
“It’s pretty simple,” Oshie explained. “It’s being around the net more and letting my creativity and my hand-eye coordination just give me the opportunity to score more goals or get more tips or create more offense, more scoring chances. I feel like I did a fairly decent job at getting to the net front before; I think there is just a little bit more emphasis now.”
This season, Oshie said, he’s more actively seeking scoring opportunities and “not necessarily looking to support” as much as he did before. Typically on a line with center Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana last season, Oshie knows their ability to win one-on-one matchups. So at the worst, he said, being at the front of the net occupies a defender and, in turn, benefits his entire line.
Reirden said some players need to stand in front of the net and serve as a screen, but Oshie immediately becomes an offensive option because he has the mind-set to go toward that area instinctively.
“He’s getting to the side of the net that he knows defensemen that can’t shoot it on net will shoot it to him as a ‘side-of-the-net tip,’ ” Reirden said. “He’s added that element to the game, and our defensemen know he will be there, too. So it has expanded our scoring area for us.”
But crashing the net and being able to create more scoring chances aren’t easy on the body. Even with his smaller stature, as center Nicklas Backstrom pointed out, Oshie is able to use his toughness to withstand the physical toll. At any given second in front of the net, Oshie will be getting hacked or crosschecked on the back or calves. It’s not a glamorous position, but grit is a key part of Oshie’s game.
“The guy’s not scared of anything, so he’ll take beatings to stand in there,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “Sometimes when you have [John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin] up there, the puck can go wild, too. He just stands right in there and doesn’t even flinch and is fearless. When you do that and have the skills that he does, that’s a pretty good combination.”
During the team’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday, Oshie scored two power-play goals. The first came after he stood firm at the net front waiting for a quick tip opportunity. He collected a pass from Backstrom, who patiently waited for a lane to open up. While Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist got over pretty quickly, Oshie was able to get three swift whacks at the puck until it slipped past Lundqvist, off the skate of defenseman Marc Staal and in. He got flattened by Jacob Trouba in the process.
“You see him whacking away at that puck tonight, but he stays in there, and if you keep watching the video, after the puck goes in he is still standing there and he gets run,” forward Garnet Hathaway said. “But that’s just Osh. He’s not leaving until it goes in.”
Oshie said he doesn’t have a specific goal benchmark this season after scoring 25 last year — “just more.” He had a drought during the team’s Stanley Cup season, only scoring 18 goals in 2017-18, but a year prior he had a career-high 33. He suffered the fifth concussion of his career last season and a broken collarbone in the playoffs.
“Obviously playing here, playing with some pretty world-class players, I’ve been able to get 25 and over other than the one year when I had that big drought, which ended up being okay since we won the Cup,” Oshie said. “But really just more.”
Reirden knew the strict limitations Oshie was under while he played seven seasons in St. Louis. But in Washington, the coaches allowed him to be more creative and make more plays with the puck. Oshie described his first two years with the Capitals as an adjustment period for the better. With relatively free rein, he’s seeing the benefits.
“My first couple years, it was a learning curve on not having that coach’s voice in the back my head saying, ‘You have to chip the puck here, don’t make that move, don’t stickhandle,’ ” Oshie said. “Whereas they are now saying, ‘Trust your talent and make plays.’ ”