All season long, the Capitals have had to make due with what they’ve had. And Friday in Winnipeg, they made due with perhaps the least they have had all season long.
Absent three of their regular centers, a wing and a defenseman due to COVID protocol and two more forwards due to upper-body injuries, the odds were stacked against the Capitals when they faced the Jets.
And, somehow, they emerged with a 5-2 win on the back of some timely scoring and strong play in goal.
The Capitals didn’t have Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, Nic Dowd or Trevor van Riemsdyk due to COVID protocol. Tom Wilson, who has skated with the team, was out and Anthony Mantha remains on long-term injured reserve.
Added into the absence of big names and three of the team’s four regular centers, they had to skate with just 11 forwards and played seven defensemen against the Jets.
Brett Leason, Daniel Sprong and Conor Sheary scored the goals to put the Capitals up, and then Michael Sgarbossa and Alex Ovechkin buried empty-net goals to make the game a three-goal difference.
In net, Vitek Vanecek got the start and was a stone wall at points of the game. He ended having stopped 40 of 42 shots sent his way, including 33 of 34 at even strength. In a second period where the Jets dominated in shots (20-9), he kept the Capitals in the lead.
In total, it made for one of, if not the most, impressive wins of the season for the Capitals on a night when it looked like they were doomed from the start.
There are still major COVID concerns for the team and the NHL, as even with Dowd and van Riemsdyk set to come off the list upon return to the United States, two of the team's top six centers will remain on the list. Both Backstrom and Kuznetsov are new entries meaning their stay will be a bit longer than others on the list.
Additionally, the NHL has already paused the season for three teams through Christmas as COVID has spiked once again in North America. It is unclear what's next for the league.
As for what that means for the Capitals moving forward remains unknown, but leaving Canada with a win, with the shorthanded lineup they had, was one of the most impressive nights they’ve had this season.