The Capitals' win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday got a little chippy in the third period when Nic Dowd delivered a high hit to Eric Staal. A scrum immediately ensued and Staal left the game after the hit.
Dowd was issued a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head, but the Sabres definitely think there should be more than just a minor penalty for Dowd.
"That's a tough hit," Taylor Hall told the media. "[Staal's] not even a really dangerous player at that point when he has the puck, so for their guy to go after him and make contact with his jaw like that, it's not something that you want to see."
"I didn’t see the hit itself. I just saw Eric do a helicopter, which is usually a sign of a hit to the head," Jake McCabe said. "As we all saw on the replay, it was definitely to the head and pretty dirty."
Head coach Ralph Krueger said after the game that Staal was being assessed and was considered day-to-day. He also added that he was, "Quite surprised that a hit to the head gets two minutes, but it is what it is."
Obviously, what the Sabres are hinting at is that they feel this is a hit that warrants a look from the Department of Player Safety. If the DoPS does take a look, that could mean a possible suspension for Dowd and that could be an issue.
Obviously, you never want a player to get suspended, but if Dowd were to be suspended for the hit and have to miss Friday's game, the Caps don't have a lot of options to replace him in the lineup.
Most fans will read this and think, "Connor McMichael." Problem solved, right? Not at all.
First, McMichael's quarantine from the World Junior Championship has not yet ended so he did not travel with the team. I am not sure specifically when it will end, but even if he was available, it wouldn't matter because of the team's cap constraints.
In fact, they can't really afford to recall anyone.
According to CapFriendly, Washington was less than $3,500 under the salary cap at the start of the season and the cap hit of a suspended player continues to count against a team's cap during the suspenion. That means the team cannot replace Dowd with a player from the taxi squad because it cannot afford the extra cap hit.
Basically, the only option the Caps have is to plug in someone who is already on the active roster and who was a healthy scratch on Thursday. Those players are Daniel Sprong, Jonas Siegenthaler and Trevor van Riemsdyk. Of those three, none are centers and only one, Sprong, is a forward.
There's always someone who played center back in pee-wee hockey who can step into the role for a game if necessary, or perhaps Laviolette could choose to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards. Either way, neither solution is ideal.
All of this is hypothetical for now as Dowd has not been suspended for anything and could perhaps avoid supplemental discipline altogether if the DoPS chooses not to review the hit. But clearly the Sabres feel it was a hit that deserves a review.