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Injuries finally catch up to Capitals

Three forwards leave game in first period, don't return against Red Wings

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz should have known better than to tempt fate.

This has been a rough week in the NHL, with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils each sustaining an injury that will sideline him for a significant stretch. Trotz couldn't help appreciating that the Capitals were 16 games into their season and had yet to have a player miss a game because of injury.

He just shouldn't have said it out loud.

"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 after a 1-0 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. "We were talking about that and how fortunate that was, and I should have just kept my mouth shut."

The Capitals' luck turned in a first period when T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller each sustained what Trotz said was an upper-body injury, leaving Washington to finish the game with nine forwards. And it could have been worse.

Right wing Tom Wilson also had to go to the locker room for a few minutes after his head and shoulder crashed into the end boards on a boarding penalty by Danny DeKeyser 8:29 into the first period. Oshie and Eller already were out by that point, and Burakovsky joined them later, but Wilson was able to come back and finish the game after shaking off what he said was a stinger.

Burakovsky skated at practice Saturday, but the Capitals said Oshie is week to week and Eller is day to day, each with an upper-body injury. As a precaution, they plan to call up at least one forward from Hershey of the American Hockey League so they'll have enough bodies for their game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Verizon Center on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET; SN, CSN-DC, FS-O, NHL.TV).

The 82-game regular season becomes a war of attrition at times with injuries.

"We're getting past that stage in the season where we're hitting the first 20 games, and you've got a lot of [players from the World Cup] that they're already getting into the 30s here because guys played eight, nine games at the World Cup," Trotz said. "Those were like playoff games, so there's a lot of wear and tear on your top players in this league."

Trotz was well aware that the Capitals were fortunate to go as long as they did with a healthy roster. All he had to do was look at the Red Wings, who added Darren Helm to their lengthy list of injured players Tuesday with a dislocated shoulder.

The Red Wings got defenseman Niklas Kronwall back from a knee injury Friday but remained without forwards Thomas Vanek (hip), Tomas Jurco (back) and Andreas Athanasiou (knee).

It went mostly unnoticed when Eller was injured on his first shift, but it was hard not to see Oshie wincing in pain when he got up after he delivered a hard open-ice hit on Red Wings center Riley Sheahan 8:10 into the game. Before the end of the period, Burakovsky also was in the locker room.

Although the Capitals didn't rule out that Burakovsky would return after the first intermission, he wasn't seen again until he exited the locker room, already showered and dressed in a suit, when the media entered after the game.

Down to nine forwards for the final two periods, the Capitals were able to gut out the victory, with Jay Beagle scoring on a rebound with 5:11 remaining in the third period and Braden Holtby making 25 saves.

"It felt like minor hockey again where you just had nine guys up front," Wilson said. "I can't remember the last time three guys have gone down like that in the first period. A little adversity. We've had some good tests this year, and that was just another one. The guys handled it well. We played the game we needed to and got the job done. It wasn't run and gun and pretty, but it's a 1-0 win, and we'll take it."

Whether any of the three injured Capitals will be available Sunday remains to be seen, but this is the reality of the NHL regular season. Trotz knew that before he said anything to the doctor Friday.

"It was strange. It all happened pretty quickly," Holtby said. "I don't know the extent of what [the injuries] are or anything like that. It's a fast league, fast-paced, big, strong guys going a million miles an hour. It's hard not to get injuries. You've got to be prepared, and I think that's one thing that management has done a phenomenal job of, is getting us depth.

"We have plenty of guys in Hershey that have NHL experience and good players that can come up and give us great games if needed, and we have guys on our third and fourth line that are anxious to step into bigger roles."

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