Matt Niskanen, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Devils. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen is unlikely to play in Tuesday’s game at the Carolina Hurricanes after he missed a second straight practice with an undisclosed “upper-body” injury that he “tweaked” in Washington’s last game. The Capitals announced Niskanen is “day-to-day,” and Coach Barry Trotz said the top-four blueliner is not going to travel to Raleigh.

“It doesn’t mean he won’t join us,” Trotz said. “There’s a possibility of that.”

Tuesday’s road contest is the only game Washington plays all week, so if Niskanen doesn’t play, he would have roughly a week off between games. That’s something the Capitals are considering.

“We’re going to make sure,” Trotz said. “If there’s any doubt, we’ve got a break here and we’re not going to risk Matt Niskanen for one game. We’re not going to do that. That’s why I say there’s a chance, but it’s probably very slim.”

Niskanen missed 13 games with a thumb injury, and in the 22 games since he’s returned to the lineup, he has three goals and seven assists while averaging 22:47 a game. He and Dmitry Orlov are Washington’s top defensive pairing, often tasked with playing against other teams’ top forwards at even strength, and Niskanen also plays on the penalty kill and second power play unit. The Capitals are 17-7-3 with Niskanen in the lineup this season, and they’re 7-6-0 when he’s not.

At practice Monday, Orlov skated with Taylor Chorney while John Carlson was paired with Christian Djoos and Brooks Orpik with Madison Bowey. Carlson’s ice time when Niskanen wasn’t in the lineup for those 13 games was 27:47, but since Niskanen’s been back, Carlson’s averaged 25:19.

In the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, Niskanen played 22:11 and scored a goal in the third period, giving no indication that he was ailing during the game.

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