WINNIPEG — The Washington Capitals could be significantly shorthanded after a bruising 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night. In addition to being without top goaltender Braden Holtby, who suffered an undisclosed “upper-body” injury Wednesday morning, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie both suffered possible concussions during the game.
Kuznetsov was clipped in the head by Brandon Tanev’s elbow in the first period, and though he played on the ensuing power play for an illegal check to the head, he then went back to the locker room for an evaluation and didn’t return. With six goals and 15 assists, Kuznetsov is Washington’s leading scorer. Without him, Lars Eller centered the top line with captain Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson.
“It was more precautionary,” Reirden said. “Obviously, a blow to the head. We have to continue to evaluate him [Thursday], but we needed to make sure he didn’t return to the game tonight.”
While the NHL Department of Player Safety is closely reviewing Tanev’s hit on Kuznetsov, whether it results in supplemental discipline for a violation of Rule 48 will come down to whether Kuznetsov materially changed the position of his body or head immediately before or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact. Because Kuznetsov stops abruptly and rotates his body and head immediately before Tanev making contact, it’s likely Tanev will not be suspended.
The Department of Player Safety is also examining Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey’s play on Oshie in the last minute of the game, when Washington had goaltender Pheonix Copley on the bench for an extra attacker. After both players skated into the corner, Morrissey slammed Oshie down to the ice, and Oshie’s head hit the surface. He came up woozy, especially concerning because Oshie has four reported concussions in his career, including one last season.
“It’s something I think the league is going to look at,” Reirden said. “It’s similar to a situation that happened in Vancouver earlier in the year — a vulnerable player that’s thrown to the ice. ... We’ll see and check in on T.J. I have not talked to our trainer tonight since the end of the game, so I’m not sure exactly where things stand with him.”
Reirden alluded to when Florida’s Mike Matheson forced Vancouver rookie Elias Petersson down to the ice, causing Pettersson to suffer a concussion. Matheson was suspended two games for interference/unsportsmanlike conduct, and while there are some differences between Wednesday night’s incident and the Pettersson one — this wasn’t an act of retaliation on Oshie and the puck was in the area — a person with knowledge of the Department of Player Safety’s thinking said there were also enough similarities.
As for Holtby, Reirden said he got hurt when he and goaltending coach Scott Murray went on the ice in Winnipeg of Wednesday morning, and the Capitals will evaluate him again on Thursday morning before deciding if they have to recall another goaltender from the American Hockey League. Prospect Vitek Vanecek is currently out with an injury, so that would leave Ilya Samsonov, the team’s 2015 first-round pick, as the only option. Washington started Pheonix Copley against the Jets, and the team signed Gavin McHale, a goaltending coach for the University of Manitoba’s women’s hockey team, as the emergency backup.
The Capitals have an off day in Denver on Thursday, and they play the Avalanche on Friday night.