Capitals centers Lars Eller (upper body), Evgeny Kuznetsov (COVID protocol), and Brian Pinho are all out and will not play tonight against the New York Islanders. Without those pivots, head coach Peter Laviolette is turning to TJ Oshie, who will play center for the first time as a member of the Capitals.
“TJ’s a smart player,” Laviolette said. “This is a short term fix until we get some bodies back.”
During the morning skate, Oshie centered Conor Sheary and Richard Panik on the second line. He told the press afterward that “it’s definitely been a while” since he last played center — a few times for the St. Louis Blues — but he wasn’t sweating the change.
“I’m pretty familiar,” Oshie said. “I know I haven’t played the position for the most part. Me and Nick (Backstrom) have quite a bit of trust when we get back in the D-zone that if I’m low, I stay low and play in a centermen’s role. I feel like it won’t be too big of a shock. I’m not really too nervous about it. I know all my responsibilities and I’m really excited about the challenge.”
Oshie, who is an excellent playmaker and defensive forward, already does most things a centerman does without technically being a center. For instance, he has taken the fifth-most faceoffs since arriving in Washington via a trade with the Blues.
“He’s too smart of a player (to struggle there),” Nicklas Backstrom said. “He can play at every position I think. It shouldn’t be a problem. Most of the time, he takes a lot of draws too. I think it’ll be fun seeing him as a center tonight.”
The Capitals are one of four teams to have not lost in regulation so far this season despite all their injury and COVID woes.
“For the most part, we’ve had a very next man up mentality,” Oshie said. “The guys that are missing you can’t replace them. We’ve got guys that are stepping into the lineup and really doing a great job for us and bringing a positive impact to the team on a shift-to-shift basis. We’ve been staying focused on our goal, to play hockey a certain way and from that get as many points as we can. I’m really proud of a lot of these young guys that are stepping in and doing a great job for us.”
Laviolette explained that Oshie’s move to center made more sense than potentially putting Connor McMichael in that spot in his second career game. Plus, McMichael could be needed if Tom Wilson misses his third straight game due to a lower-body injury.
“This does the least amount of shuffling through our lines,” Laviolette said. “I know it’s not a natural position (for TJ), but with Tom a game-time decision tonight, it’s kind of the way we rolled through the lines today.
“I do think he’ll be able to handle it,” Laviolette added. “He’s able to take faceoffs. He’s a good penalty killer. He’s good offensively so for him to fill this role, it’s short term. It might not be perfect, but it’s a good option for us tonight.”
But what if Oshie plays really good there, Lavy?
“This is a short-term thing,” Laviolette said. “We’re not on tryout tonight for TJ Oshie to see if he’ll be a counterman for our club.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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