Veteran injuries weighing on Caps in losing streak

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 01: Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) clears the puck as Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) gets knocked down during the NHL Hockey match between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitols on November 1st, 2021 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When the season began, the only active roster injury the Capitals were dealing with was the hip injury to center Nicklas Backstrom. Since then, two more key veterans have missed games and the Caps has been forced to rely on unproven rookies.

On October 28th, T.J. Oshie suffered a lower body injury against Detroit after taking a slapshot off of his skate. Just over a week later, Anthony Mantha injured his shoulder, an injury that required surgery. Mantha has been placed on injured reserve and is out indefinitely.

Sidebar: I REALLY hope this isn’t my fault for reevaluating the Mantha/Vrana trade in my last article.

These injuries have resulted in a three-game losing streak for the Caps this week. The holes being left behind by the absence of their would-be second line have been difficult for the youngsters to fill.

In the loss to Philadelphia on Saturday night, Washington started three rookies on the forward lines. Hendrix Lapierre filled Mantha’s spot as the second-line left winger, while Connor McMichael and Brett Leason played on the third line.

However, after trailing 2-0 through two periods, Peter Laviolette shuffled the lines and put the three rookies together on the third line. The all-rookie line stepped up and scored the only goal for the Caps with Leason’s tally. 

Defenseman Martin Fehervary was on the ice for that goal, putting four rookies on the ice for a score. It also makes John Carlson the most efficient babysitter on the team.

While there are plenty of positives to take home regarding rookie performances, the injury concerns can’t be ignored. This is exactly the problem Washington’s aging roster was looking to avoid this season.

It’s not realistic to expect a team to go through the entire NHL season without significant injuries, but this many, this early is a red flag. General Manager Brian MacLellan has been adamant that Bckstrom’s recovery will not be rushed, taking a “slow and steady” approach. 

Backstrom has been traveling with the team, and is eligible to come off of long-term injured reserve, but it doesn’t appear that will happen soon.

Oshie’s recovery is simply a wait and see situation. MacLellan said Oshie will test it this week and the team will go from there.

With the next three games coming against teams that finished bottom five in the league last year, the schedule is favoring a depleted roster. I’d expect Oshie to return in time for next Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh.

Backstrom could be ready to play after the team’s west coast trip. I’m hoping for a Backy debut in the Thanksgiving Eve game against Montreal.

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