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Despite the Penguins’ Best Efforts, Oshie Keeps His Head and Elevates the Capitals

It was a tough night for the Caps’ stalwart winger, but he was the hero in the end.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

We’re proud to welcome another new writer to the Japers’ Rink family: Bryan Stabbe! Bryan is currently the lead editor for our NFL pals over at Hogs Haven, is a 20-year veteran of Caps’ fandom and is not afraid to admit that he wept openly on the Portrait Gallery steps when the Caps finally won the Cup (not that anyone should ever be afraid to admit that...). Make him feel welcome!

If the Capitals had lost to the division-rival Penguins on Tuesday night on national television, no one would have blamed T.J. Oshie. The fourth-year Capital had taken more than his fair share of bumps and bruises, including a pair of cringe-inducing hits above the neck that forced him to miss stretches of the game.

In the first period on just his third shift of the game, Oshie took a stick blade inside the mask from Olli Maatta, that resulted in blood on the inside of his visor, but curiously did not result in a penalty.

In a scary moment in the third period, everyone’s second favorite Penguin Evgeni Malkin threw a seemingly deliberate elbow/shoulder at Oshie, where referees deemed the primary point of contact to be Oshie’s head and Malkin was assessed a ten-minute game misconduct penalty, a hit that will likely result in a second look from the department of player safety.

The hit was made more nerve-wracking based on Oshie’s history with concussions: he’s had four of them over his career (that he has divulged) and over the last two season in Washington, he has missed 22 games, a sizable proportion of which were due to head injuries.

In spite of his tribulations, Oshie’s tenacity proved to be the difference. He returned to the ice just fifteen minutes after the dirty hit and played the hero, eluding Sidney Crosby to record the game-winning tally with a little over one minute left in regulation time.

The goal capped off a somewhat listless performance in which the Capitals were largely outplayed, save for Oshie and Braden Holtby who stopped all but one of the 42 shots he faced. In the post-game interview, Oshie sported a set of stitches underneath his eyebrow at the bridge of his nose and he credited his goaltender for the victory saying, “it was more Holts’ night than my night, he saved us quite a bit out there. After having to go through all the protocols it was nice for John [Carlson] to find me for the empty-netter, so we’ll take the win for sure.”

Much has been made of Oshie’s eight-year, $46 million dollar deal that will keep him in the red, white, and blue through 2024-25, and concerns that both he, and his deal will not age well. However, performances like tonight show how essential T.J. Oshie is to this team as a jack of all trades at even strength and on both special teams.

On the power play, Oshie’s presence in front of the net has become an essential pivot point, drawing defenders his way and creating passing lanes for John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin. If you need any further proof of Oshie’s impact, just re-watch the Capitals power play that resulted from Malkin’s game misconduct hit. Without T.J. on the ice in an extended opportunity with an extra man, the Capitals registered just two shots on goal and spent the majority of the advantage struggling to maintain possession of the puck in the offensive zone.

So far this year Oshie is second on the team with seven goals and ranks fifth in points with 12 total, but it is clear that his presence is much more than total point production, rather his drive and determination to stay on the ice shows his overall character and commitment to this team.

It’s a long season and it is difficult to draw too much from any one singular performance, but the Caps are going to need more games like tonight out of #77. But hopefully, for his sake, he can register those team-elevating performances with fewer bonks on the noggin.