- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Last season, when the first-year Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz had right winger T.J. Oshie’s talents at his disposal, he knew he was getting a player who had improved his scoring consistently over his time in the NHL.

When he put Oshie on his team’s top line, though, paired with center Nicklas Backstrom and left winger Alex Ovechkin, it took some time for Oshie to fully assert himself.

“I think when he first got here I put him with Ovi and Backy and all he wanted to do was get the puck to Ovi and Backy,” Trotz said after the Capitals’ 4-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. “And I think they have the mutual respect, all three guys know that they’re all terrific players, and they can make things happen.”

Whether it’s due to time, respect, or anything else, the Capitals’ top line has been making things happen at a formidable rate lately. They’ve been on the ice for seven goals in the Capitals’ past two games and, together, they’ve given Capitals’ box scores a slightly different look from years past.

Oshie’s scoring has been largely responsible for that. With four goals in the past two games — including a hat trick Saturday against the Lightning — Oshie has hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his nine-year NHL career and is threatening to be the first player other than Ovechkin to lead the Capitals in goals since Ovechkin came to Washington in 2005.

If you ask Oshie, though, he’s not so sure. Ovechkin currently has 29 goals on the season.

“Ahh, he got one tonight,” Oshie said Tuesday. “Don’t get to used to it. This guy can score a lot of goals. It’s not really my focus to lead the team in goals, my goal is to play good hockey and get wins. I wouldn’t doubt [Ovechkin] scoring every game throughout the rest of the season.”

Whichever player comes out on top, the Capitals’ scoring numbers will be far more balanced than they have ever been in the Ovechkin era. Ovechkin has had three seasons with at least double the goals of the Capitals next best scorer. In 2010-11, Alexander Semin’s 28 goals were only four behind Ovechkin’s 32; in every other season no one has been within 10.

Ovechkin, though, who will play a career-low minutes per game this season, is perfectly happy for Oshie.

“Obviously it’s huge,” Ovechkin said, describing Oshie’s 30-goal milestone. “Especially on his last year of a deal so, you know, ka-ching!”

Ovechkin is right. Oshie has earned himself some money on his next deal by playing so well and scoring so much. At 30, he appears a player still on the rise.

Roughly speaking, a couple injury-shortened seasons notwithstanding, Oshie’s scoring numbers have gone up steadily from year to year. His next-best season was last year, his first with the Capitals, when he scored 26 goals. He had scored 19 the year before, his last season in Saint Louis, and 21 the year before that, his third-best career total.

The Capitals have 10 games left in the regular season, so Oshie can extend his total. While Ovechkin has played in 72 games so far, Oshie has done all his scoring in 59. Barring another injury, he’ll come close to the 72 games he played in 2014-2015, but will be at least 10 games behind the 79 he played in to reach his 2013-2014 total.

“It feels great,” Oshie said. “It’s something that I always thought I could do in, kind of, increments. My first goal was 20 for a while there when I was a little bit younger and it’s pretty special for me to get to that point.

“I feel like I’ve worked pretty hard for it but at the same time I’ve got some pretty good players around me and without them I don’t think I’d get there so a lot of hats off to those guys.”

• Nora Princiotti can be reached at nprinciotti@washingtontimes.com.

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