ANAHEIM, Calif. - Washington Capitals forwards T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana exchanged looks as Vrana skated over to the bench early in the team's California trip, a goofy grin plastered on the young winger's face before he engulfed Oshie in a sideways hug.
The pair continued a brief exchange before Vrana tilted his head, pressing the lid of his helmet against Oshie's, completing the heartfelt moment. The growing chemistry between the two is apparent, and the team's dynamic second line - as evidenced by Vrana's two-goal game at San Jose - is benefiting.
The two began playing together during the team's 2018 Stanley Cup run.
"It's been a great combination," said Oshie, who starred at Warroad High School and UND. "It's always been great playing with him. He always has a smile on his face and so it has been great. Especially this year, I mean we played together for most of the Cup run, but especially this year, we've formed more of a bond and really enjoy playing with each other."
Through 30 games, when Oshie and Vrana have been on the ice together, the Capitals have scored nine goals and allowed seven with both players on the ice at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick. They each feed off the other. Oshie likes to get in corners and dig pucks out to create offense; Vrana uses his speed on the rush to create space for himself or whoever is filling the middle.
For the past seven games, the line has been centered by Lars Eller with Nicklas Backstrom out with an upper body injury. The Swede is medically cleared to play but has yet to return. With Eller centering the line, the team has produced seven goals at even strength while allowing only three.
Capitals coach Todd Reirden gave a lot of credit to Eller and his ability to help open up the ice for Oshie and Vrana. Knowing how well Oshie had played with the Danish center in the past, Reirden wasn't worried about Eller moving up temporarily to the second line.
But regardless of who is occupying the center position, Vrana and Oshie continue to feed off each other.
"You can see how dynamic of a player he can be because of his speed," Oshie said of Vrana. "These last couple years, he's really upped his defensive game and he's really rounding himself out as a player, as a good 200-foot player."
Oshie's feel for the game is such that he can flourish without being the fastest player on the ice - or the one with the best shot. Vrana has benefited from that hockey IQ by, what Reirden says, "understanding how to play the game properly every night, not just offensively, but defensively and complete game."
"It really does work well," Reirden said of the Vrana-Oshie duo. "They go out there with the idea that they will do something good every shift right now and, sometimes, it doesn't always turn into a goal. Sometimes it's a shift where they spend time in the offensive zone and they hit a post or something happens."
Vrana has 25 points (14 goals and 11 assists) and is on pace for 38 goals and 68 points, a year after posting a career-high 47 points. Oshie has 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists). They are two of six Capitals' players with at least 10 goals, the most in the NHL.
"We're pretty lucky in this room," veteran forward Tom Wilson said. "We got so many players that are talented and get the job done. No matter who you are playing with on any given night, there is a lot of firepower and it's been that way for a long time, since I've been here. Very fortunate to play with my linemates and [we have] good chemistry up and down the lineup."
With the entire team clicking and on a five-game winning streak headed into Friday's game against Anaheim, Oshie and Vrana will look to continue to build on their growing bond. And so far, the two can't stop talking about each other. After the San Jose game, Vrana went on and on about Oshie - his grit, his battles behind the net, his "sick" offensive abilities.
"You see him there behind the net, battling [expletive] great battles man . . . really happy playing with him," Vrana said. "Just winning lots of battles and then he's sick offensively. He can score goals, lots of goals."
This article was written by Samantha Pell, a reporter for The Washington Post.