Early in Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders, the Capitals found themselves short-handed, but not because of the penalties that piled up later in the game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

John Erskine suffered what appeared to be an injury to his left hand or wrist in the first period of the 5-2 loss to the Islanders. He took only two shifts for a total of 1 minute 18 seconds of playing time.

The Capitals would only describe the ailment as an upper-body injury and Coach Adam Oates was unsure of how much time the rugged blue-liner might miss.

“I hope it’s day to day. I hope it’s nothing too big,” Oates said.” Tough injury. We’ll figure it out.”

It’s unknown whether Erskine might be able to face the Rangers on Sunday at Verizon Center, but Washington can ill afford to lose another key defenseman for a prolonged period of time with Mike Green already out indefinitely with a groin injury.

Erskine has been a steady presence on the blue line this season with an increased role as a top-four defenseman. He’s averaged 18:42 per game, 2:12 per contest on the penalty kill and is the only defenseman on the roster who brings a truly consistent physical element.

Against the Islanders the Capitals were at an instant disadvantage, adjusting to playing with only five defensemen from the outset. John Carlson played a team-high 29:14, Karl Alzner saw 24:08 while Tomas Kundratek clocked in at (22:13). Steve Oleksy and Jeff Schultz finished with 20:13 and 19:28, respectively.

“From the first minute of the game it’s tough,” Oates said. “It’s a lot of wear and tear on them. We’ve got a couple young kids in there but I thought they did a great job. “

The absence of a regular penalty killer was also glaringly apparent as the Capitals had to kill off two minor penalties by Mike Ribeiro and then a double-minor by Schultz in the third period.

“He logs a lot of PK minutes for us on the back there. He’s got a good stick, he plays physical in front of the net,” Troy Brouwer said. “He’s able to clear guys and pucks out so losing him so quickly into the game is tough because then it wears down your other five D men and it makes it a lot tougher.”