With more players out on Sunday, has the Capitals lineup reached a breaking point?

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J.J. Regan
·3 min read
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Has the Capitals lineup reached a breaking point? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

First, the Capitals had to deal with four key players getting added to the COVID-19 protocol-related absence list. Then the injuries started as they lost Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary. But the team was, for the most part, able to overcome those losses with a stunning degree of early success. Now, however, it seems the team has reached a breaking point.

Prior to Sunday's game, it was announced that both Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie would miss what turned into a 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

"Obviously the loss is frustrating," Wilson said. "I think we got some points earlier in the year when they weren’t our best games."

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After a 6-0-3 start to the season, now the Caps have lost three games in a row in regulation as teams have begun to exploit the gaping holes in Washington's roster.

Really, it was inevitable it would get to this point given all the players out. What was remarkable was how long they were able to overcome those losses to continue earning points in the standings.

But cracks had been starting to form for some time even before the losing streak.

Heading into Sunday's game, the Caps ranked 27th in shots on goal per game, 27th in shots on goal against per game, 29th in shot differential per game and 26th in Corsi-For percentage.

Based on those numbers, Washington's success seemed unsustainable.

But we should have expected that. How could a team lose as many players as the Caps and expect to have continued success?

On Thursday, head coach Peter Laviolette had to resort to playing a lineup with 11 forwards and seven defensemen and playing Alex Ovechkin over 27 minutes. On Sunday, Laviolette had to cobble together a lineup with three of his top six forwards missing. When he was healthy, Oshie had been playing center in place of Eller and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Goalie Vitek Vanecek has also started in nine straight games. That seemed to catch up with him on Sunday as he let in four goals on 13 shots and was pulled in the second period.

The good news is that some key players could be back soon. Eller and Sheary were both in the lineup Sunday. Laviolette also said that Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov remain on the protocol list, but rejoined the team and began workouts on Saturday. Their return would restore the team's four centers and half of the team's goalie tandem.

But Laviolette cautioned it may still take some time for any of the team's missing players to return.

"Some of the guys that you're talking about they haven't been on the ice or, if they did touch the ice, it might have been for the first time today and away from the team," Laviolette said, "So I think we're going to assess everything when we get past this game and we get into tomorrow and we start talking about how we're going to move forward from there."

With a 56-game season, the Caps cannot afford to let this three-game losing streak spiral until they are back to full strength. In a condensed season during a pandemic, you just don't know when or if full strength is even possible. But trying to find points with such a depleted lineup is no small task as the Caps are now learning.

It will fall on Laviolette to manage the best lineup he can of what's available to him in the hopes of turning things around before the team begins to dig itself a hole in the standings.