Injuries Galore: The Washington Capitals Sluggish Start to the Season

Courtesy of Stars and Sticks

By Luke Weidenkopf 

There’s a buzz. The arena shakes. The smell of warm, buttery popcorn, and hotdogs waft throughout the air as you make it to your seat. You look out and see a sea of red. Then a player steps onto the ice and the fans go wild. 

That’s the feel of Capital One Arena. It’s the most welcoming place for DC fans but strikes fear into fans of opposing teams. The outcome of the game rarely goes in the other team’s favor, and you usually leave feeling victorious and energized. 
The DMV has been fortunate to house one of the greatest hockey players of all time, Alexander Ovechkin, for the past 18 years. He is the greatest goal scorer in the NHL and is currently (as of the writing of this article) 106 goals behind the all-time great, Wayne Gretzky, career goals record. Although there was much hesitancy about whether or not Ovechkin could actually snap the record, all disbelief vanished last season when he scored 50 goals. He is entering the second year of his five-year $47.5 million deal. His start to the season has been slow, like most of the team, but there should be no anxiety among Capitals fans as much of the season is still yet to be played and Ovechkin still has lots to give. 

The season has not started as well as Capitals fans would have hoped for. Washington is in 16th place in the Metropolitan Division with a 7-8-2 record. This is an extremely disappointing result and is even harder to bear with the Thanksgiving deadline rapidly approaching. Thanksgiving is classically seen in the NHL as the true cutoff point. If a team is not in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving, then their likelihood of reaching the playoffs is very slim. There is also the added notion of the Capitals being in the most competitive division in hockey. The New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and New York Islanders are all top teams in the NHL this season and provide the Capitals with unique battles, all of which they will have to overcome to make the playoffs. 

There are many reasons for the Capitals slow start. One of the key flaws of this team is their lack of depth. The top six of the Capitals has been excellent with Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Dylan Strome leading the charge. The only disappointment so far is winger T.J. Oshie who has been in and out of the line up with injuries (and is currently on Injured Reserve). The bottom six of the Capitals have been virtually nonexistent offensively. None of the players have stepped up and majority of them still have not registered a point. Garnet Hathaway and Aliaksei Protas are two of the major drags on the bottom of the lineup. Both have played 18 games but neither has registered more than 5 points this season. 

The other main detriment to the 2022-2023 Capitals is the pile of injuries that have stocked up. Tom Wilson was placed on injured reserve before the season started due to a torn ACL and has been in rehab for the past couple months. He is expected back in late December but there has not been a confirmed timetable. There are three other players on injured reserve: Conor Brown, Beck Malenstyn, and T.J. Oshie. Nicklas Backstrom and Carl Haglin were both put on LT-IR. Backstrom is not expected back this season and there are many who question if he will ever play in the NHL again. He and Ovechkin have been the bread and butter in the Capitals lineup for over 10 years and his loss has no doubt hurt Ovechkin’s quest for greatness. 

One of the key surprises of this for the Capitals is the play of both of their goaltenders. The Capitals got rid of their two previous goaltenders in the offseason and signed Charlie Lindgren and Darcy Kuemper. Lindgren is a career backup who has split his time between the American Hockey League (AHL) and the NHL. Many believed that he could not fully adjust to a full time position in the NHL but his play has easily disputed this belief. Kuemper backstopped the Colorado Avalanche in their Stanley Cup Championship run and was one of the top free agent goaltenders available. Kuemper usually takes time to adjust to a new setting but this year he has been excellent and has adjusted well to Washington’s system.

The Capitals have all the tools to succeed in the NHL, but their lack of depth and key injuries have slowed their run of dominance. There is only so much that Ovechkin can do to carry his team to the playoffs. The only thing they really can do is survive until their roster heals up and to try trading for key players, which could push them toward a deep playoff run.  

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