A couple of weeks ago, Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy had a fresh set of stitches in his lower lip. They’re gone now. Taking their place are a couple of scrapes that will probably be followed by a bruise on his right cheek. That’s what happens when you take a puck to the face from close range.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without scars, without stitches of some sort,” Caps goaltender Braden Holtby said.
To Oleksy, they’re beauty marks.
“I’m always beat up. About 90 percent of the season, I usually look like I got hit by a car,” Oleksy said. “The other 10 percent is the offseason.”
It’s not the offseason yet, so Oleksy probably has a few more pucks coming to the face. Oleksy and the Caps opened the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday night with 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers at Verizon Center. As he’s done since he joined the team March 5, Oleksy provided the Caps with a lot of steady defense.
For good measure, he threw maybe the best pass of the season.
“I didn’t know he had that club in his bag,” teammate Eric Fehr said afterward.
During the course of a single hockey game, the puck may get passed eleventy billion times. Or more. That one can stand out so much says a lot about its quality. You’d imagine a breath-taker of a pass might come from assist masters Mike Ribeiro or Nicklas Backstrom, or maybe superstar Alex Ovechkin.
Nope. It came from a rookie who would never have guessed in January that he’d be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in May.
Late in the second period, with the score tied at 1, the Caps finished killing off an odd penalty. They were down two men for almost a minute, down one for another minute. It was time to take control of the game.
Oleksy glanced up ice and saw teammate Marcus Johansson behind the defense. Two Rangers were in front of him, separated by only a couple of feet. It was like one of those between-period games they sometimes play, where a fan has to shoot the puck into a small opening to win a car.
The puck zipped between the Rangers and onto Johansson’s stick. Only 27 seconds after the penalty kills, Johansson stuffed it past Henrik Lundqvist and the Caps had a 2-1 lead. Jason Chimera scored 47 seconds later.
“At first, I didn’t even think he was going to try and make the play,” Johansson added. “When he did, I knew it was going to get there. I told him afterward it was a hell of a pass.