As the Washington Capitals head out for a two-game road swing and their first back-to-back of the 2021-22 campaign, they continue to take things day-by-day with more injuries taking over.
The Capitals placed forward Nic Dowd on the injured reserve on Wednesday and recalled Aliaksei Protas from the Hershey Bears. He went down in the second period of Washington’s 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, falling to the ice and barely putting weight on his right foot before heading down the tunnel. He did not return to the game and did not practice on Wednesday.
Head coach Peter Laviolette said that the 31-year-old will be out for “a little bit,” but doesn’t think it is a major injury. It’s not the same ailment that placed him on the IR earlier in the season.
Filling Dowd’s role will be another tall task for Washington, who is already missing Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha. He drives the high-power fourth line with Carl Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway and is one of the team’s top two-way players and penalty killers. Dowd not only wins important draws and remains reliable in his own end, but he can also get the puck up the ice and generate pressure in the offensive zone.
Right now, the Capitals have just 12 healthy forwards after re-assigning Hendrix Lapierre to the QMJHL. They also have to assess a possible developing situation in net.
Washington recalled Zach Fucale on Monday from Hershey. The 26-year-old netminder will make the road trip, along with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, who the team is still evaluating. Vanecek also appeared to be hurting toward the end of Monday’s victory and wasn’t lifting his arm much. However, he was a full participant at Wednesday’s practice and was moving well in the net and taking part in all of the usual drills.
Laviolette didn’t rule out the possibility of Fucale making his NHL debut but said that it all depends on how Vanecek is feeling and what the current situation in net is.
Looking at the roster as a whole, the Capitals have just 12 healthy forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders on the roster, and they also deployed some interesting line combinations on Wednesday:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Conor Sheary-Connor McMichael-Daniel Sprong
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby-Lars Eller-Garnet Hathaway
Carl Hagelin-Aliaksei Protas-Brett Leason
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Justin Schultz
Vitek Vanecek/Ilya Samsonov/Zach Fucale
With Dowd out, McMichael moves up to the top-6. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby will replace Carl Hagelin on the third line, with Eller slotting in for Dowd as usual. Hagelin, in turn, will help lead rookies Aliaksei Protas and Brett Leason on the fourth line.
Overall, the locker-room mentality remains the same: stick with the game plan.
“It happens. I’ve been on teams like this before,” Conor Sheary said of dealing with injuries. “We just got to trust what we’re going through, trust the process, trust the system and trust the players that we have on the ice. We’re obviously missing some big names, some big key guys in our lineup, but it’s not going to change the way we approach each game and how we go about each day. We’re just going to come to work and hopefully get a few wins.”
The Capitals faces the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday then faces the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. They return home on Sunday to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’ll be a major test for the team as they not only deal with injuries but several rookies drawing in and a busy schedule ahead.