In just his second appearance in the bigs, Steve Oleksy made it tough for anyone watching to distinguish between he and his veteran teammates. Putting in 22 minutes, 13 seconds, including two minutes on the penalty kill, Oleksy led the Caps Thursday night in time on ice.
"He's the type of guy that with his style of play he can play a lot of minutes because he keeps it so simple," said fellow defenseman Karl Alzner. "He's the kind of guy we need. It's great to see him come in and fill the holes he's been filling."
But he didn't just contribute in minutes. Oleksy made impressive contributions on both ends of the ice Thursday night as well.
During the Capitals' 4-goal onslaught in the first period, Oleksy picked up his second career point when the newly-signed defenseman sent a clearing attempt back into play and onto Wojtek Wolski's stick.
The goal came at just 3:10 into the contest to put the Caps up 2-0 on the Panthers. The early lead, coupled with his early contribution set the tone for Oleksy in his second straight night on the score sheet.
"It's a huge boost, it takes the tension off and you don't grip your stick as tight," said Oleksy after the game. "Things feel like they're coming a lot easier. You feel a lot more comfortable after you get a couple of those on the board and I'm able to focus on my defense too."
And focussed he was. As time ticked down before the second horn, the Panthers made a hard push on Washington's net. In those dangerous final seconds, Oleksy stepped into the line of fire to protect his netminder's perfect night.
"It was kind of a broken play there," said Oleksy. "They just threw a knuckler on the net and it kind of bounced around a little bit. I knew he didn't have it and once I saw [the referees] didn't point I knew it had to be laying behind [Braden Holtby] so I just reached around him and poked it away.
"He's bailed me out a few times this year so it was nice to help him out a bit. We had a quick giggle out of it. It felt good to try to keep his shutout going."
"I just said thanks for that," laughed Holtby afterwards. "I had no idea where that puck was when it was laying in the crease. You know that's what happens when you have a defenseman who's willing to play in that area right in front: he's going to get those for you and it's much appreciated."
Holtby and Oleksy became acquainted with one another during the lockout as Holtby manned the pipes in Hershey. Before his recent call-up, the 27-year-old racked up 2 goals, 12 assists and 155 penalty minutes in his 55 games with the Bears.
"He's a goaltender's dream for a d-man," said Holtby. "His priorities are exactly what a goalie would love to have in front of him. He blocks shots. He's always on the defensive side of things. He's making smart breakout passes and if he turns it over he's fighting harder than any guy on the ice to make up for it. He's been playing great."
"He's my kind of d-man," added Alzner. "He plays tough, he keeps it simple. If you go through the film I don't think he's made too many mistakes in his first two games so it's a pretty impressive start."
Oleksy would add another assist before the night was through, bringing his season total to three points in two games. But when he wasn't dishing the puck to his offense, he was blocking shots (4) and laying down hits (4) in his own zone.
"He plays the body very well and it's great having another guy back there that can do that," said Matt Hendricks, who led all skaters with six hits. "I think the more guys that play physical, the harder it is on whatever team we're playing and whatever line that's out there."
Oleksy established his toughness early with a crushing hit on Shawn Matthias that brought the Verizon Center to its feet in the first period just seconds after blocking the Florida center's backhand attempt.
"That's what I try to bring game in and game out," said Oleksy. "I try to punish their top players when they come across the blue line and make it a hard game for them."