The last two games for the Washington Capitals have taken a toll.
Against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, Washington was able to walk away with a win, but it came at the cost of both right winger T.J. Oshie and center Lars Eller. Oshie appeared to be shaken from a hit he threw in the first period, and Eller played just 45 seconds before exiting the game with an injury. Both players have upper body injuries. Eller’s injury status is day-to-day, while Oshie’s is week to week.
On Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Capitals headed into the third period up a goal. But after Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky scored within 14 seconds at the start of the period and forward Alexander Wennberg added a power play tally with just 54 seconds remaining in the game, the Capitals fell 3-2.
It was giving up a power play goal due to a questionable call, however, that had to leave a sour taste in the mouths of the Caps and their fans.
With 1:34 left in the game, Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom was called for a high-sticking penalty on Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno. Backstrom’s stick never made contact with Foligno’s face, but a penalty was called anyway.
“I didn’t touch him,” Backstrom said. “I asked the guy too, and he said I didn’t touch him. Really weird that I got a penalty there.”
“I hope the league looks at that,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “If you see the replay, he doesn’t really touch him. And [Foligno’s] head pops up when [Backstrom’s] stick is already on the way down. That’s a little bit disrespectful to the game.”
While matters beyond the Capitals’ control appear to be going against them, things they can control appear to be positive, especially within the Capitals’ top lines.
While losing Oshie for an extended period of time means that a key offensive contributor is out of the lineup, the Capitals are still getting offense from their big-name players. That includes Backstrom, who had a goal and an assist, his 180th-career multi-point game, against the Blue Jackets and Alexander Ovechkin, who had a power play goal of his own.
On Ovechkin’s goal, his ninth of the season, Backstrom found his teammate on a cross-ice pass on the power play. The pass was deflected by Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert, but it still had enough momentum to get to Ovechkin’s stick. Instinctively, Ovechkin riffled it to the top of the net.
“I was lucky there,” Backstrom said. “Their forward almost got it. We haven’t been really successful on the power play, so it was nice to see it bounce our way there.”
Offensive contributions from Backstrom and Ovechkin are critical when a team isn’t healthy.
And the Capitals aren’t just missing Oshie’s offense — they also lose a lot of defensive play from both Oshie and Eller. Each player is featured prominently on the penalty kill.
The Capitals are leaning on their depth. Tom Wilson recorded 1:46 minutes on the penalty kill. Daniel Winnik, an occasional healthy scratch, saw 41 seconds. Rookie Zach Sanford was utilized on the penalty kill and Backstrom has seen a bit more time.
“Daniel Winnik, he’s come back into the lineup and that’s supposed to be his specialty,” Trotz said. “I think Zach Sanford is slowly getting some responsibility there. Obviously with Lars out, [Backstrom] has been killing. [Oshie] had been killing, but we were trying to weed him off a little bit. The group, [Brett] Connolly, Williams has done it. It’s got to just be a group effort.”
Sunday’s loss was the Capitals’ fifth of the season — something that didn’t happen until Dec. 10 last season — but Trotz is confident the team has the depth to compete while Oshie recovers.
Trotz cited Paul Carey, recalled from the Hershey Bears in the AHL following the string of injuries, as an example.
Carey, who appeared in four games for Washington last season, played for 12:08 minutes against Columbus.
“I thought Paul was really good,” Trotz said. “I mean, he got on the puck. He made a real play….he out-raced a guy for an icing call which allowed us to get some fresh people on. You don’t know how big that is when you get a group on there that has a shift in a half there.”
The 11-5-2 Capitals continue their home stretch against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.