PHILADELPHIA | Steve Oleksy is in the Washington Capitals’ lineup for a reason. He’s a right-handed shot defenseman, but what he brings in the absence of NHL experience is a hitting ability that can be a game-changer.
When he laid out Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux, inciting Jake Voracek to get a double-minor for instigating and fighting with a visor, that’s exactly what Oleksy did. The Caps scored twice on the ensuing power plays.
“He’s been great for us all season long,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “He deserves to be here and he’s been one of our most steady defensemen since he’s been called up: fighting, big hits, turn the tide. We were able to get two PP goals on that PP and it should have been enough to win the game tonight. He did a great job.”
Oleksy had a cut above his left eye and blood running down his face after dropping the gloves with Voracek, and that might have been worth it had the Caps held on to their two-goal lead. Instead, the 27-year-old defenseman got stitched up after a 5-4 overtime loss.
There wasn’t much more Oleksy could have done. His hit on Giroux was clean, and the Caps made Voracek pay.
“Tough kid, handled it. They protected their player,” coach Adam Oates said. “Our power play scored two goals, what you’re supposed to do there, and it put us in a good position.”
Oleksy was not made available to speak to reporters because he was getting his cut stitched up.
From Voracek’s perspective, he was coming to the aid of Giroux. It didn’t matter that Oleksy’s hit was clean.
“To be honest, I didn’t see it. I just kind of went after him,” Voracek said. “He turned around and I had no choice after that.”
Oates said “for sure” it was a clean hit by Oleksy.
“[Voracek] kind of jumped him,” he said. “That’s why he got a penalty, with the shield, and got the jersey over his head real quick. The refs, they got in there as fast as they could.”
Voracek got five minutes for fighting, two for instigating, two for instigating while wearing a visor and a 10-minute misconduct. In the end it was worth it for him and the Flyers, who acknowledged Oleksy’s hit wasn’t dirty at all.
“That was a nice hit, yeah I think the puck was at his feet or something, G was looking down,” Flyers agitator Zac Rinaldo said. “It was nice; that’s hockey.”
Rinaldo still applauded Voracek for fighting. One way or another, someone was going to challenge Oleksy after hitting Giroux.
“I was ready to jump over the boards,” Rinaldo said. “Thank God Jake did or else I was going out there.”
That would’ve resulted in even more penalty minutes than what Voracek received, and there’s no telling what the Caps could have done with five minutes of unlimited power-play goals.
They figured building a two-goal lead when Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin scored would be enough. It wasn’t.
“[We] caught a bit of a lucky one with a double minor and capitalized, and we weren’t able to keep it,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We seemed to not play our game, I guess. We tried to go into too much of a defensive shell and it didn’t work out.”
And that’s no fault of Oleksy’s, as he did his job and should have had more than stitches to show for his efforts.