The hit that Matt Niskanen took in Washington’s 3-1 victory over Carolina Thursday seems to have looked worse than it is; Niskanen is listed as day-to-day and will travel with the team to Ottawa, head coach Todd Reirden announced Thursday.
In the waning minutes of the third period, Matt Niskanen was battling Justin Williams in a chase for a loose puck in the corner. As he took a slight check from Williams, Niskanen was still speeding toward the puck, then, suddenly, he found himself going head-first into the boards. Clark Bishop checked Niskanen from behind, sending him straight into the boards and, ultimately, hitting him in the head.
The 32-year-old blueliner was attended to by a trainer, and managed to skate off under his own power. He did not practice with the team Friday.
Lars Eller, who saw the hit in real time, called the play “a very dangerous situation” and that players “shouldn’t do that as an opposition player.” Madison Bowey also saw the play, and explained it could have been avoided.
“I think everything happens so fast in the game of hockey, but I think there’s that fine area of where it’s a little too far and a little too close to the boards for where I think that’s right in the perfect spot to maybe let up a little bit,” Bowey said. “I know that extra bump he took before going into the boards didn’t need to happen and obviously, it’s a fluke incident, and we hate to see that. It’s definitely scary, but Nisky’s a tough guy and I know he’ll be back soon.”
So far this season, the Capitals have battled a number of blue line injuries so far this season. Brooks Orpik is finally nearing a return after suffering a lower-body injury in late October. Most recently, Christian Djoos had thigh surgery in mid-December and will be out indefinitely.
Although the injury to Niskanen is another tough loss, Eller said the defense corps, especially the “young guys,” have proven their ability to fill in and continue to maintain strength on the backend without key guys in the lineup.
“Defensemen are always hard to replace, especially top four defensemen,” Eller said. “I’m not worried. We can overcome this in a short period of time. I think other guys can step in and raise their game and do the job.”
As Washington waits for Niskanen to return, Bowey is taking his place on the second-pairing alongside Dmitry Orlov, and Jonas Siegenthaler and Tyler Lewington (alternating with Orpik, who is close to returning but will not play against Ottawa) make up the third pairing. It’s unclear whether or not Niskanen will suit up Saturday.
Bowey is confident that he and his teammates will rise to the occasion in Niskanen’s absence, but also emphasized how important his ailing teammate to the lineup.
“His demeanor, every time he comes to the rink, he’s ready to work. He’s a very poised guy on the ice and off the ice, and I know just his leadership in the room is huge for us,” Bowey said. “He plays some huge minutes and he does a great job... I know he’s a big key and plays a role in our team’s success, and we’re all going to have to step up here in his absence.”