Let’s be honest - the lineup the Washington Capitals iced Tuesday night looked more like a split-squad preseason grouping than a team with serious Stanley Cup aspirations.
Indeed, the “who the heck is that guy?” nature of the lineup (do you think even Brian MacLellan remembered that the Caps signed Daniel Carr back in October?) made the Caps’ 3-2 victory that much sweeter, especially considering who the team was missing at the time Justin Schultz notched the game-winner. The Caps were, of course, without the Quarantine Quartet of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov, missing their third of (at least) four games for violating the League’s COVID protocols. The club was also without their best forward in the early goings of this strange season, Tom Wilson, for a second-straight game as he nurses a lower-body injury. And then, for good measure, the Caps lost Lars Eller to a brutal check to the head from Leo Komarov with nine minutes left in regulation and Nicklas Backstrom (for the second time in the game) with just over four. In other words, the Caps’ top-two (and only) centers when the final buzzer went were Nic Dowd and Michael Sgarbossa (whose first name I just had to double-check).
And yet... two points.
The win ran the Caps’ record on the young season to 4-0-3 as they remain unbeaten in regulation, which is obviously huge. We’ve talked about how the Caps haven’t yet played their best hockey (we hope), but also how critical every point is likely to be in playing out this shortened, intra-divisional schedule.
But let’s take a moment to think about just how impressive it is that they’ve scraped together five points out of the last three games by putting who they’ve been missing in perspective. The Caps’ COVID comrades - Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Orlov and Samsonov - are their top wing, second-line center, #2 defenseman and (putative) #1 goalie, respectively. Who are those guys on other teams? Take a look:
Reasonable minds can disagree on these designations and the comparative impacts of each (Ilya Samsonov isn’t nearly the established #1 netminder that Carey Price is, but neither is Blake Lizotte going to be confused with Evgeny Kuznetsov any time soon). Point being, look at those quartets and think about how tough it would be for their respective teams to win games without them (and that doesn’t even include removing an additional exceedingly handsome top-six do-everything winger).
Point being, well, points. And veteran teams find a way to pile ‘em up, even during tough stretches. So when May comes around and we lament the points they left in Pittsburgh in January, let’s also be sure not to forget the handful they found between the sofa cushions a week later. Because they all count, every last one.