Whenever Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau gets impatient with his team's power play, it's usually because the men on the ice are playing just a little too cute.
Granted, when you can count on players like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green, you can understand why the power play unit might fall into the trap of making one more perfect pass instead of just firing from the puck from the point and letting somebody down low take care of the garbage goals.
Of course, the one essential element in keeping the game plan that simple has been the presence of a player down low willing to pay a physical price to claim that real estate. Oh, and it doesn't hurt if that player has soft hands and a killer instinct to pounce on loose pucks and bang them home. The prototype for such a player is easy to find: Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom.
Over the course of two seasons, team captain Chris Clark made it clear he was willing to do the job, and he made the most of it. Clark scored 50 goals in the two years he regularly rode shotgun on Ovechkin's opposite wing. Unfortuantely for Clark, paying that physical price has landed him on the team's injured list all too often over the past 14 months. With him out of the lineup, no other player has really stepped up to claim the role in Washington.
But last night, the team got a closer look at the young man who may very well be the solution one day: winger Oskar Osala.
Listed at 6'4" and 217 pounds, it's hard to ignore the massive Finn anywhere he might be on the ice. Certainly, it's been tough to ignore him in the AHL, where he's managed to score 16 goals in just 26 games for Hershey. If he can keep up that pace, the pick is going to look something like a steal for Washington, as they snagged him in the 4th round and 97th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Said Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau to Tarik el-Bashir of the Washington Post after the team recalled Osala from Hershey to bolster an injury-depleted lineup: "People who pay money to see games, want to see a bang for their buck ... He's got skill, he goes to the front of the net, he works the corners, he's all of those things."
But while Osala might have a lot of potential, it's clear that the Caps are going to bring him along slowly. In last night's victory over Eastern Conference-leading Boston, Osala clocked a little more than 11 minutes of ice time, all of those coming at even strength. Playing on a line with Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley, Osala seemed a bit tentative at times, and he admitted as much after the game: "I was so nervous in the first, and then in the second period you start feeling a little more loose, and I got the first out of the way now. It feels really good."
Luckily for Osala, his stay with the Caps will be extended to at least Friday night when Washington hosts Ottawa. "I really hope to step it up a notch on Friday," he said last night. "This was the first game. You try to play it safe. I really look forward to stepping it up and getting better if I get another chance."
He's not the only one looking forward to it.
Is Oskar Osala the Second Coming of Tomas Holmstrom? originally appeared on NHL FanHouse on Thu, 11 Dec 2008 11:55:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.