Nic Dowd is one of the most valuable members of the Washington Capitals. He has proven such with timely goals, gritty defense, service on the penalty kill, and the anchor of a fourth line that didn’t miss a game just a season ago. Now he’s on the injured reserve list, leaving the Capitals with another massive hole to fill as early ailments are piling up for the team.
Dowd is Another Key Loss for the Capitals
Dowd, along with linemates Carl Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway played all 56 games last season for Washington. The center posted career highs in goals (11) and faceoff win percentage (56.25%). It wasn’t the stats that made him so valuable, it was the grinding effort he put in and the timeliness of his tallies.
The center’s presence on the ice makes the Capitals a better team. His lone goal on the season thus far came against the Colorado Avalanche, but he has a plus-2 rating and had been averaging 13:43 of ice time, including 1:40 per game on the penalty kill. He was also besting his previous career-high in faceoff win percentage, snatching the puck from the circle 59.49% of the time. The little things he does are what make him the hardest to replace.
Dowd was listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury last week and did not play in Washington’s Oct. 25 match with the Ottawa Senators. He did skate on 19 shifts two days later against the Detroit Red Wings. After a fall in practice last Friday, he landed on Injured Reserve (IR) with an injury to his left leg. The center missed Saturday’s contest against the Arizona Coyotes and last night’s bout with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He won’t be eligible to play until at least next Monday, but how long he will be out is still unclear.
Aliaksei Protas Recalled
With Dowd out, the Capitals recalled Aliaksei Protas from their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Protas, 20, has registered four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in six games to start the AHL season. The 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound center made his NHL debut last night against Tampa Bay.
Protas did play in three preseason games for Washington, scoring one goal on four shots. The physical forward skated on the fourth line with Conor Sheary and fellow-call up Brett Leason, but only logged 3:53 of ice time on seven shifts versus the Lightning. He finished with a minus-1 rating, losing a faceoff to Anthony Cirelli and then failing to stay with Cirelli as he slipped the pass over to Alex Killorn. Sheary and Leason scored both Washington goals.
Center Depth A Concern…Again
Dowd’s absence is more than just the team being without his talents; Washington now has early injuries to aging veterans and it has caused a depth problem at center once again. Nicklas Backstrom (hip) still hasn’t played a game this season and there’s no timetable for his return, and T.J. Oshie (lower body) was placed on IR Friday. Leason was recalled the same day and made his NHL debut against Arizona—though he was on the roster last season for a playoff game against the Boston Bruins.
The injuries have provided more opportunities for Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre, two of the Capitals’ prized prospects. Fortunately for Washington, both forwards have adapted well to NHL play, just much earlier than expected—or wanted. McMichael has earned two points in seven games and Lapierre has one point in five games. Expect their ice time to increase as well while the team waits for news on Backstrom, Oshie, and Dowd.
Dowd Could Be the Hardest to Replace
After suffering their first regulation loss of the season last night, the Capitals (4-1-3) face another Sunshine State foe in the Florida Panthers on Thursday—one of the hottest teams to start 2021-22. This is turning out to be an unexpectedly key early-season stretch, and the team is unsure how long it will last.
Backstrom and Oshie are hard to replace, but the team does have talent that can make up for the two stars’ absence from a production standpoint. It may not be as prominent, but with consistency from the other healthy playmakers upfront and better play from the blue line, Washington can salvage some points.
Substituting Dowd’s traits will be harder. The Capitals will depend more on McMichael and Lapierre’s playmaking ability, so how Protas develops will be crucial to replacing Dowd for the time being. If he can get better in the circle, strengthen his positioning, and use his physicality, Washington may be okay. They’ll be a lot better when Dowd gets back and the lines that were working so well early on are restored.