But with eight games left in the regular season, that’s where the Capitals find themselves.
Ovechkin skated off the ice in the third period Thursday with an inner leg injury and did not return for overtime. Ovechkin missed his team’s second straight win Saturday when the Capitals beat the New York Islanders.
Washington doesn’t know if its leading scorer will be back on the ice come Tuesday, when the team faces the Islanders for the final time this season in a contest with playoff implications. Coach Peter Laviolette said Ovechkin remains day to day with a lower-body injury, and he told 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Monday that he doesn’t think the injury will be “anything long term.”
“When guys have been out of the lineup — or big players have been out of the lineup — we’ve been able to insert players and they’ve been able to do the job and we keep moving forward,” Laviolette said. “To me, that is a sign of a team that has good depth and good leadership in the room to make sure that things continue to move the way things are supposed to move.”
The first hurdles cropped up early in the season, when Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov were added to the coronavirus list. Orlov and Ovechkin missed four games. Yet, Washington still earned seven of the eight points available during that stretch.
When winger Tom Wilson was suspended for seven games for illegal boarding against Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo, the Capitals rattled off seven straight wins.
And without Ovechkin and defenseman Justin Schultz on Saturday against the Islanders, Washington still notched a 6-3 win.
“I think that’s a credit to our team and our group of having the depth that we have,” defenseman Brenden Dillon said, “and understanding the importance that when someone like Ovechkin’s out, everyone’s got to chip in and up their game a little bit.”
Trevor van Riemsdyk partnered with Dillon on the second defensive pairing in the Capitals’ previous two games. Van Riemsdyk could be back in that pairing should Schultz not be ready for Tuesday. Schultz returned to practice in a non-contact jersey Monday, but Laviolette described him as “day to day” as well.
And Laviolette replaced Ovechkin by inserting Daniel Sprong into his top line left wing role. And while winger T.J. Oshie said “you’re never going to replace Ovi,” Sprong chipped in two goals in the win.
“He’s got an outstanding shot,” Oshie said. “It’s not the same as Ovi’s shot, but they both got big curves and it comes off his stick with quite a bit of velocity. So the kid’s a shooter. He can score goals. And he scored two big ones for us the other night.”
Contributions from Sprong and van Riemsdyk are what has helped the Capitals cover for marquee absentees this season, positioning themselves in a push for the East Division title.
So whether Ovechkin is available or not come Tuesday night — when Washington plays at home in front of fans for the first time this season — isn’t a huge concern with playoffs still about two weeks away. The team has exhibited an ability to overcome those large absences.
“We’ve had to fill holes like all teams do,” Laviolette said. “And I think what has been good is we’ve been able to do that.”
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