Sheary sounded like he could hardly remember what Eller said to him as they waited for their next shift — “I think Lars said to me you deserved that one,” he said — but it didn’t matter, because the unit knew it would create more chances before the night was over.
On any other night, that missed opportunity may have drained the unit’s enthusiasm. It only seemed to galvanize the effort of Washington’s third line Thursday night. By the late stages of the third period, Sheary again had an open net — this time there was nothing Ullmark could do — and he drove home his second goal in as many games on a rebound assist from Eller to put the finishing touches on Washington’s 3-1 win.
“I think it’s a good sign that our line is creating chances and I’m getting opportunities,” Sheary said.
That final sequence underscored just how relentless the line of Sheary, Eller and Richard Panik has been of late. After serving as the centerpiece in snapping a four-game losing streak in Tuesday’s road victory over Pittsburgh, the third line again emerged in myriad ways Thursday, hounding the Sabres defensively at every turn, drawing a penalty and creating numerous scoring chances, its perseverance rewarded with the unit’s third goal in two games.
As Washington gets back to full strength and continues to lean on its offensive mainstays — Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson each scored Thursday — the third line’s production has become a consistent bright spot.
“That line’s been really, really effective for us,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think that they’ve been a big part of the success from the last few games because they’ve been able to go out and play hard, play good defensive hockey and then able to contribute offensively.”
In just over 55 minutes of ice time logged together this season, the line of Sheary, Eller and Panik has scored three goals and allowed none, outshooting opponents 32-17 in that stretch.
Eller, who returned from an upper-body injury Feb. 7, has been the backbone — “a horse and a moose,” as teammate T.J. Oshie described him earlier this week — and he has recorded points in four consecutive games. Eller’s assist to Sheary on Thursday was his 300th career point, which ranks third among Danish players in NHL history.
“Lars is a very responsible player, but he can also chip in on the offense,” Sheary said. “Right now, we’re just finding chemistry with each other, knowing where each other are on the ice and knowing tendencies and knowing how he likes to play. I think Panik, too, we’re all just meshing together.”
While that sustained production from Eller has become expected for the Capitals, Sheary has been a welcome surprise after signing with Washington on a one-year, $735,000 contract in December. His four goals in 12 games highlight his potential to add scoring depth to Washington’s lineup — especially given that he’s averaging just over 11 minutes of ice time per game — and his opportunities have been a product of a dogged playing style. His speed and aggression gave Buffalo fits all night. He drew an early slashing penalty — which led to Backstrom’s power-play goal in the first period — and Sheary’s goal came on his eighth shot in three games.
“I like everything about his game right now. He is working really hard. I think there’s something to be said for that. If you work continuously on the ice, good things will happen for you, and that’s an example of what he’s doing,” Laviolette said. “He’s competing. He’s in the battles. He’s fast. He’s turned things over, his linemates have played well with him, so, for me, it’s been a good line. Conor’s been able to collect and pick up the goals.”
Laviolette said Friday that he wants his offense to attack more during Saturday’s matinee against the visiting New York Rangers, although he has remained steadfast in his praise for the third line over the past week. The line has shown it can generate chances in different ways — off the rush, off cycles, off rebounds. Maybe that’s why Eller was so confident when he told Sheary he was robbed after the first-period scoring chance Thursday night.
“I had a feeling it was going to be hard to keep him and our line off the score sheet for the rest of the night,” Eller said of his conversation with Sheary on the bench. “I just said, ‘You deserve to get that one back.’ ”