Washington Capitals Susceptible to Injuries on Defense


The Washington Capitals were already missing Brooks Orpik heading into a matchup with the Buffalo Sabres. Add John Carlson to that list.

The Washington Capitals took the ice in Buffalo on Monday night without their two original top pairing defensemen in Brooks Orpik and John Carlson. Carlson, who had a consecutive games played streak of 412 after playing Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens, is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury. Though Carlson’s injury doesn’t appear to be serious, it goes to show what a couple of injuries could do to the Washington Capitals blue line.

Aside from Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen, that is an extremely inexperienced defensive corps for the most part. Taylor Chorney has already played in 26 games this season, something that nobody should have expected heading into the season. Connor Carrick is seeing his first NHL action since the 2013-14 season, when he was rushed into the Capitals lineup by former coach Adam Oates

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Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov have played their fair share of NHL games to this point, but it is important to remember that both are in their first full-time NHL campaigns. On top of that, Orlov is coming off of a wrist injury that kept him out for the entire 2014-15 season.

Orpik’s ailment has been the only one to keep a Capitals player out of the lineup for an extended amount of time this season, which makes Washington extremely lucky in that regard. While at full strength, the Caps have a very formidable defense, one that is among the best in the league. A couple injuries, however, and it is a lot less attractive to the eye.

Chorney has done a fine job eating minutes for Washington, but he is at the very best a #6/7 defenseman who can efficiently play the role that he has been playing recently. But if anyone above him on the left side of the defensive depth chart went down, does that mean Chorney would be playing top-four minutes? It looks like that could be the case, and that would be bad.

Carrick is a young player who has a very bright future, but now is not the future. He has been playing big minutes with the Hershey Bears this season, and that has been great for his development. He absolutely has a future on Washington’s blue line, but you have to hope for him and the Washington Capitals that he doesn’t need to be forced there right now.

This has to raise the question: Should Washington be in play for a top-four defenseman either now or at the trade deadline? This has been explored recently, but the question becomes even more relevant in situations where one or more key defensemen are out of the lineup.

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Much like Carrick’s individual potential, the Washington Capitals have a promising future on the blue line. Carrick, Madison Bowey, and Jonas Siegenthaler make up a trio of young players who you can expect to see a lot of in the coming years. Siegenthaler is not eligible for the NHL right now, and Bowey is a guy just getting his feet wet in a professional setting with the Bears.

Bowey had a decorated career in juniors, but he should not be called up for any reason other than an absolute emergency this season. Carrick is clearly the most NHL ready of those youngsters. But is he a player who could truly contribute down the stretch and in the playoffs on a Stanley Cup hopeful?

If there is any uncertainty within the Washington Capitals organization over that, conventional wisdom leads you to believe that they would be at least looking for a depth defenseman a la Tim Gleason last season. A guy that can hold his own and play big minutes if he has to.

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As you can see, there are a lot of questions still surrounding this defense, especially if the injury bug bites again as we move through this season. I was originally a part of the crowd believing that the Washington Capitals should first focus on acquiring a solid bottom six forward, but if the third line can continue playing as they have over the past week, I’m not so sure that a forward should be at the top of the immediate needs list.

This is all the more true if Brooks Orpik is out long-term, especially if long-term turns into the rest of the season. Schmidt and Carlson have not been great together on the top pairing, so the focus in that scenario should be on finding an adequate partner for number 74 moving forward.

A lot of information still needs to be gathered, including just how long Orpik will be out, as well as if Carlson’s injury will bother him for any length of time. Can Orlov and Schmidt elevate their game even further as we go? Will Carrick prove to be a legitimate NHLer, or does he need more seasoning?

Time will tell, but fortunately for the Washington Capitals, this hot start has given them a little bit of leeway to figure out what they can about the things that they can control.

Next: Caps Gain Momentum Heading Into Break

We all love to play the role of an armchair GM. So, let us know what moves the Washington Capitals should make (if any).