VANCOUVER — When T.J. Oshie returned to the Washington Capitals’ lineup last week against Philadelphia, there were immediate questions about where he would best fit among the forward corps. He had missed 11 games with a lower-body injury, and easing him back into the lineup was a distinct possibility.
Instead, Oshie was placed on the second line, with young winger Sonny Milano and crafty center Evgeny Kuznetsov. At the time, Milano was still figuring out his role with the Capitals as the coaching staff moved him up and down the lineup. Kuznetsov was fluctuating between the first and second line and was mired in an offensive rut.
On paper, the line appeared to have all the intangibles to be an offensive threat — or it could have fizzled out.
Luckily for the middling Capitals, the former has occurred over the past week, with the line continuing to flash its potential. Before Washington’s game Tuesday night against Vancouver, the second line of Oshie, Kuznetsov and Milano had played together against Philadelphia, Calgary and New Jersey.
In all three games, the line created numerous offensive scoring chances as the Capitals tried to find their rhythm in the offensive zone. In that three-game stretch, Oshie had a goal and three assists, Milano recorded a goal and two assists and Kuznetsov tallied a goal and an assist.
Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette praised the trio’s chemistry and prowess after Washington’s consecutive wins against the Flyers and Flames. In a 5-1 loss to New Jersey, Laviolette still liked the trio’s scoring chances and chose to keep them together against Vancouver.
“They are noticeable off the rush, in zone; they seem to have really good chemistry,” Laviolette said.
Oshie, who has played with Kuznetsov for stretches in the past, admitted that sometimes the two haven’t been able to connect on the ice. Those moments became “frustrating,” according to Oshie, yet as of late the duo have worked surprisingly well.
“I think we’re just reading off each other really well. … Right now we’re really looking for each other,” Oshie said. “It’s just fun hockey when you’ve got guys that are kind of thinking the same way you are.”
Kuznetsov also praised Oshie’s on-ice skills, notably his offensive creativity. While there have been a few times in which Oshie has turned over the puck after attempting to pass to Kuznetsov down the middle of the ice, Kuznetsov likes Oshie’s aggressiveness and initiative.
“It’s just nice to have a guy that is not afraid to make a play and, if it’s not going to work out, he’s not afraid to make another one after that,” Kuznetsov said. “You have to have lots of games behind your back to be able to execute and make some plays and not [be] afraid to make mistakes because, like I said, it’s nice to be on the forecheck but sometimes we have to make plays.”
Milano’s presence on the line with Kuznetsov and Oshie adds another layer of offense. He is able to use his quick hands and skating skills to create plays for his linemates while also creating space for himself to operate around the net.
“He works hard; he skates,” Oshie said of Milano. “It seems like he’s good at getting to open areas for us. I’ve missed him a couple times, so I think we could have been even a little bit better. But it’s fun playing with those two guys right now.”
The uptick in Milano’s game has coincided with increased trust from the coaching staff; he is now getting time on Washington’s second power-play unit.
“He makes plays,” Laviolette said. “When he’s on the five-on-five or the power play, he’s a guy that sees the ice. He sees things happening as they’re happening. He’s got a skill level that can execute and make those plays, and so with that, he’s done a good job both five-on-five and on the power play.”