Late in the third period of the Washington Capitals' 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy was in his comfort zone, tousling his hair while tussling with Brandon Dubinsky.
As the 27-year-old journeyman traversed the country playing for seven teams in five years in three different minor leagues before finally landing in the NHL for the first time last March, the steady Oleksy earned his keep as a rugged defenseman that was willing to throw his weight around. Yet before he wowed with his fists Saturday, he did with his hands.
After Martin Erat threw a pass in Oleksy's direction during the second period, he gathered the puck along the right-wing boards and broke towards Sergei Bobrovsky. With plenty of room after Erat drew in three Blue Jackets, Oleksy evaded Cam Atkinson with a slick curl-and-drag move before throwing a wrister on net that was designed to produce a rebound. Brooks Laich was the beneficiary, sweeping it in for his second goal of the season.
“It was a great play by Marty just leaving it to area and I knew once I got it, [Atkinson] was going to expect me to shoot it right away,” Oleksy said, downplaying his dangle. “I kind of waited and let him make the first move. I was just trying to get around him and I knew we had good traffic in front so I just wanted to make sure I got it through to the net and Brooksie did a great job sliding it home.”
Oleksy's assist was his third of the season, all three of which have been of the primary variety at even strength. He has as many even-strength points as the rest of Washington's defensive corps has combined.
“That one surprised me,” coach Adam Oates said. “I was a little panicking for a second, but great play. I’m glad. He’s a guy, that from where he came from last year, has done nothing but continually improve.”
While Oleksy's highlight-reel assist may have left Oates astonished, his teammates were well aware of his underrated offensive skills.
“Steve-O can surprise you," Joel Ward said. "People don’t give him as much credit, I think he can make a lot of good plays. It’s not just Greenie [Mike Green] or Carly [John Carlson] back there.”
Added Laich, who has scored both of his goals this season on passes from Oleksy: "I like him. He's setting me up lately."
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