The Washington Capitals lost to the Vegas Golden Knights 1-0 on Monday evening. It was the first time the Capitals have been shut out on the year and the first time the Knights shut out an opponent.
Vegas is good; it’s not the loss that is the problem. It’s that big fat zero in the score sheet. Entering the game, the Knights ranked 15th in the NHL for goals against per game (3.02) and 22nd in penalty kill percentage (77.5%). We already know the result of the former, but the Capitals went 0-for-5 in regard to the latter.
There has been a common denominator between Washington’s woes with scoring at even strength and on the power play: the absence of T.J. Oshie.
Capitals Need a Healthy Oshie in the Lineup
Oshie, 35, has only skated in 18 games this season. The Capitals are 12-2-4 in those games. In the 25 he has missed, they’re 11-11-3. That’s a significant difference, and it can obviously be argued that Washington performs better with him in the lineup.
The forward has had a tumultuous season. He has been placed on injured reserve three times, was in COVID protocols, and also missed time due to a separate illness. From Oct. 29 through Nov. 20, Oshie was tending to a lower-body injury. He came back for one game before returning to IR.
After his second return on Dec. 2, he played in six games before contracting COVID and entering protocols. He only missed one game during that span but then caught a separate illness and missed three games between Jan. 2-8. He skated against Boston on Jan. 10 and the New York Islanders on Jan. 15 before suffering an upper-body injury that landed him on his current IR stint.
The stat sheet may not show this, outside of the different overall records with or without him, but the team’s scoring has suffered when Oshie doesn’t skate. Considering that’s been more than half of the season, Washington is lucky to even be in wild card position. With that in mind, the Capitals need the veteran back in the lineup and healthy if they want any shot at gaining momentum entering the postseason and making a run at the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals currently rank 12th in the NHL in goals per game (3.19). For one of the most potent offenses over the last decade and a half, that’s not cutting it. When Oshie plays, the team averages 3.66 goals per game; when he doesn’t play, they average 2.92. Considering all the close losses Washington has suffered this season, that difference is actually substantial.
Oshie has 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) in 18 games on the season. On paper, that doesn’t necessarily show his impact, but it’s his presence that changes the defensive strategy of opponents. This is especially relevant to the power play.
This is going to sound very repetitive, but it needs to be stressed. The Capitals currently rank 30th in the NHL in power-play percentage (14.2%). For one of the most potent power-play units the last decade and a half, that’s not cutting it. When Oshie plays, the team’s power-play success rate is 15.09 percent; when he doesn’t play, it’s 13.51 percent.
Again, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Thirty-one percent of Oshie’s offensive production has come on the power play this season. He has registered four points (1 goal, 3 assists) on the man-advantage, but it’s his presence that changes the dynamic.
His positioning in front of the net not only crowds the goalie, but his ability to score from the slot needs to be monitored by the defense. He being near the crease alone opens the window for Alex Ovechkin and others to shoot through screens or gaps the opponent’s goaltender and blue line are delayed in covering.
|Capitals’ 2021-22 Season||Games||Record||GF/GP||PP%|
|With T.J. Oshie||18||12-2-4||3.66||15.09%|
|Without T.J. Oshie||25||11-11-3||2.92||13.51%|
The truth is somewhat in the numbers, but his absence on the ice and the attention he draws while skating is what’s truly missing for the Capitals. The team needs a healthy Oshie back in the lineup to help resolve some, if not most, of their scoring issues.
Not Just a Return, a Healthy Return
Oshie was eligible to return to the lineup against the Knights on Monday but did not dress for the game. That was probably a good thing. Since he has been dealing with multiple health issues this season, he needs to be 100 percent ready to go before coming back so he can stay in the lineup for the rest of the Capitals’ 2021-22 campaign.
The team has four more games before the all-star break. Though it’s a tough stretch against the San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Edmonton Oilers, perhaps it would be wise to keep the veteran forward resting and healing for that entire span. Last time he came back when he was eligible, he got injured again. Either way, Oshie needs to be back but fully healthy if the Capitals want any chance at making a run at the Cup.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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