Two Saturdays ago, the Washington Capitals returned from their bye week with a road game against the Detroit Red Wings. Though it was away and the Caps’ first game back from a weeklong vacation, a bout against the last-place team in the Atlantic made for reasonable confidence in a Caps victory, not to mention the six-game winning streak the Caps took with them into the bye week.
Unfortunately, however, it seems that any momentum the Caps may have been carrying with them into vacation was left in the Caribbean. A frustrating overtime shootout loss to Detroit marked the introduction of a much groggier, uncoordinated and now injury-plagued Caps team that would go 2-2-1 in its first five games back and lose a few key players along the way.
The Caps left Detroit just in time for a back-to-back loss against the New York Rangers, which they suffered without forward André Burakovsky, who was injured in the game against Detroit and subsequently placed in injured reserve for a broken hand.
While both of these losses were frustrating, two consecutive away games right after returning from a bye week is a tall order. In fact, these losses make a lot of sense, given that 16 of 19 teams have lost their first game back from a bye week this season. Most knew that the scoring levels of the pre-bye week Caps had to be unsustainable, and I think it is very beneficial for the team to suffer a few losses, regain some perspective and find its rhythm again before the postseason.
The problem is, in an effort to find that rhythm, Caps players have injured themselves. In a decisive yet ugly victory against Philadelphia last Wednesday, defenseman Matt Niskanen had to leave early after suffering an injury from Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas. T.J. Oshie was roughed up by Sean Couturier, playing the rest of the game but ultimately sitting out the next game against Edmonton due to an old upper-body injury likely inflamed by Couturier. Finally, Brooks Orpik sustained a lower-body injury from the Flyers as well.
Though all three players are listed as day-to-day, Niskanen, Oshie and Orpik all sat out Saturday in a 5-2 loss against the Predators. Injuries, frequent traveling and bye-week disruption have the Caps limping into Tuesday’s game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Though it has been a turbulent couple of weeks for Caps hockey, there have been a few bright spots. Riley Barber was called up from Hershey to play against Edmonton, making his long-awaited NHL debut on the third line. Barber, along with Zach Sanford, Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney all saw playing time in games against Edmonton and Nashville, giving the Caps backups a chance to step up and prove themselves.
Tom Wilson – a part of Head Coach Barry Trotz’s prized fourth line – has begun to show his worth on the scoreboard with goals in two consecutive games. Though Wilson is often doubted after not quite living up to soaring expectations as the 16th overall draft pick in 2012, it is reassuring to see that he can produce occasionally and add even more depth to one of the best teams in the league.
With upcoming games against New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, the Caps need to find their rhythm soon. I suppose if there were ever a time for everyone to get injured all at once, though, sooner is better than later. Hopefully the injured Caps can make a speedy recovery, and then they can begin firing at all cylinders again and take some much needed momentum into the playoffs.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.