The Washington Capitals’ bench looked spacious compared to normal, players able to comfortably spread out with three fewer occupants. They would’ve preferred it crowded. After the team managed to avoid injuries to start the season, the Capitals experienced a rash of them at once.
In the first period Friday night against the Detroit Red Wings, forwards T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky all sustained upper-body injuries that knocked them out for the rest of the game. That left Washington with three lines against a speed team that has the ability to skate opponents ragged.
The Capitals held firm before breaking through with 5:11 remaining. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov fired a shot from the left point, and fitting for how the game had gone, Jay Beagle was falling down as he punched in the rebound to score the game’s lone goal. Goaltender Braden Holtby made 25 saves for his first shutout of the season.
“I mean, we lost three forwards early,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “And then there was a couple skate problems. There was a couple times where I was like, okay, we’re down to like five or six guys here. I thought it was a really gutsy effort. We got a lot of commitment in a lot of areas. They tried to grind us down pretty good with their numbers. I thought we were resilient. When there was time to be committed, we were fully in.
“When we needed a big save, we got that from Holts, and when we needed a big goal, we got that from Beags.”
Holtby made 17 saves through two periods, including an impressive one late in the first 20 minutes when Tomas Tatar barreled toward Holtby on a two-on-one, Holtby sealed up the right side of the post, the puck running into his pad.
In the second period, Washington didn’t do its already shorthanded situation any favors by taking two penalties. Without Oshie and Eller, both of whom log heavy minutes on the penalty kill, the Capitals found themselves reeling when shorthanded and struggling to get clearances. When Brett Connolly was called for hooking 10:20 into the second period, Holtby made five saves on Detroit’s power play.
In the last minute of the game, Holtby made back-to-back saves on shots that were within 11 feet of the net when the Red Wings had a six-on-five push.
“He’s always one of our best players,” Tom Wilson said. “Any given night, we know he’s going to show up. We know he’s going to be one of the best players on the ice, if not the best on any given night. We’re very privileged to have him.”
After a neutral-zone hit from Riley Sheahan in the first period, Oshie went back to the locker room and did not return. At intermission, the team announced that he and Eller, who played just one shift, would miss the remainder of the contest and be reevaluated Saturday.
On the next shift, Wilson was boarded by Danny DeKeyser, which sent Wilson down the tunnel and to the locker room. He later returned to the bench and played the rest of the game. With 2:40 left in the period, Burakovsky left the bench, and at the first intermission, the team announced he was doubtful to return — and he didn’t.
Trotz didn’t provide much of an update after the game other than to say there would be an update Saturday after the three receive further evaluation. Trotz said the team will probably recall one forward “just in case,” and that he wouldn’t make that decision until Saturday.
“I got a flu shot today with one of our doctors, and I said, ‘Knock on wood, we haven’t had any injuries,’ ” Trotz said. “We were talking about that and how fortunate that was, and I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.”
At even strength, Washington essentially played with one less forward trio, and players were thrust into new line combinations. Connolly played with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, in place of Burakovsky. With Oshie out, Justin Williams replaced him on the right side of Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.
The trio of Zach Sanford, Beagle and Wilson stayed intact, and that was the line that ultimately provided the game-winning goal.
“It was gutsy effort,” Beagle said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a game where three guys go down all within the first 10 minutes of the game. It gives you a chance to step up, though, play more minutes, especially for me, Sanny and Whip. We wanted to make sure we took advantage of it. It’s not every day we get to play that many minutes, so we wanted to go out and work our hardest and see what happens.”
Kelyn Soong contributed to this report.