After a day off on Sunday and a Monday morning practice, the Capitals took off for their last three road games before the February Olympic break. The Caps’ first stop on the journey is in Buffalo, where they’ll close out the season’s series with the Sabres on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s tilt will be the third between the two teams in the span of a month, and the Sabres have won each of the first two in the shootout, by identical 2-1 scores.
Washington is a man down as it heads out on its three-game journey. Center Mikhail Grabovski was injured in the second period of the Caps’ 2-1 loss to the Devils in New Jersey on Friday. Grabovski and linemate Eric Fehr got tangled up in front of the New Jersey net in a goalmouth scramble, and the former got up slowly and then limped off the ice with a lower body injury.
Grabovski did not play on Saturday when Washington halted its seven-game losing skid with a dominant 5-0 victory over the Canadiens in Montreal, and he did not practice with his teammates on Monday, either. Grabovski also did not accompany the club on its flight to Buffalo.
Caps coach Adam Oates was asked whether Grabovski’s injury was more serious than the Caps originally believed.
“Yeah, I think so,” replied Oates. “It’s one of those injuries that can change fast. It’s a tough timetable because you don’t put your foot in the boot.
“He was just working out with weights and he looked pretty good in there. I don’t know long it’ll be.”
Caps forward Brooks Laich also did not practice on Monday, but Laich did skate along with injured defenseman Jack Hillen before the team’s Monday morning practice.
Oates says that Laich is not ailing and is expected to play during the trip.
“Maintenance day,” responded Oates, when queried as to Laich’s status. “He skated before the guys went out, just loosened up just to get on skates. He played pretty hard in those two games, got hit a lot and had a lot of contact. He asked for a maintenance day. I don’t worry about his conditioning.”
Oates also admitted that the loss of Grabovski thins the Caps out at the center ice position.
“Maybe we’ll have to call someone up [from AHL Hershey],” said Oates. “But Casey [Wellman] played a great game for us, which is encouraging. He got a big goal, so good for him. I’m sure he feels really good.”
Wellman was called up for Saturday’s game against the Canadiens, and he – along with defenseman John Erskine and center Jay Beagle – was one of three Capitals to net their first goal of the season in the game.
“We know we have to regroup,” said Holtby. “We have to focus on this game and not get too high on the last one. At the same time, we have to use that game to our advantage. We played the way we want to, the way we need to in order to be a consistently successful team. Just because we did it one night doesn’t mean it’s going to come easy the next. But we know we can, and we know we’re going to have to do it.”
Without Grabovski and Laich, here’s how the Caps lined up at Monday’s practice:
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Martin Erat – Eric Fehr – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Aaron Volpatti – Casey Wellman – Joel Ward
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Mike Green
John Erskine – Connor Carrick
Barring any call-ups, expect Laich to man the middle of that second line, with Fehr sliding down to the left side of the fourth unit where Volpatti skated on Monday. That’s how the Caps were aligned for Saturday’s victory in Montreal, just the team’s third triumph in its last 14 games (3-7-4).