At times this season, it has felt unrelenting.
The Capitals began the year with questions throughout the forward corps, as center Nicklas Backstrom’s status was unknown with a hip injury. And as they approach the midway mark of the season, the same questions have persisted all season long.
Despite a 2-0 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday, the Capitals learned they would be without Conor Sheary, who was placed in the NHL’s COVID protocols, and lost T.J. Oshie in the first few minutes due to an upper-body injury.
The team was also already without Anthony Mantha who has been out since Nov. 1 due to a shoulder injury. Carl Hagelin and Dmitry Orlov were out of Saturday’s game as well as both are in COVID protocol, which dropped the Capitals down four of their regular forwards for the game against the Islanders.
But playing down forwards hasn’t been a recent trend for the Capitals. As of Saturday afternoon, only Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson have played in all 38 of the team’s games this season.
Centers Lars Eller and Nic Dowd have played in 31 and 25 games, respectively. Oshie has played in 18, with uncertainty about his status for Sunday’s game looming. Backstrom has played in just five. Additionally, there have been just a handful of games this season where the Capitals have been able to play with their top four centers in the lineup.
Despite all that, they’ve racked up 51 points so far this season, which places them third in the Metropolitan Division and safely in a playoff spot (by 14 points). Unless there is a dramatic collapse down the stretch, the Capitals will be playing come the playoffs in April.
Washington has been able to manage by way of standout seasons from Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as well as some timely contributions from Sheary, Garnet Hathaway and Connor McMichael.
But as the team approaches the midway mark of the season, with a fast-and-frenzied homestretch coming in late February, the injuries are going to become a problem sooner rather than later if they don’t stop piling up. While they might have to wait until the playoffs begin to get everyone back, in an ideal world, the Capitals would have some time for everyone to play together.
Mantha’s injury is long-term, but if the Capitals get Oshie, Sheary and Hagelin back in due time, having nearly all of their lineup may soon be possible. The issue is that it hasn’t happened yet.