According to coach Peter Laviolette, both goalie Vitek Vanecek and center Lars Eller are day-to-day with lower-body injuries. Vanecek was injured in the first period of the series opener, while Eller left Game 2 midway through the second period and did not return.
Although goalie Ilya Samsonov and center Evgeny Kuznetsov both traveled to Boston, it’s also not certain when either may return to the lineup. Both went two weeks without skating while on the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocols list before rejoining the team on Sunday. Laviolette has said that both Samsonov and Kuznetsov will need several days of practice before jumping into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Given the injury to Eller, and given the stability that veteran third-string goalie Craig Anderson has provided in relief, there may be greater urgency for Kuznetsov to return as compared to Samsonov.
“At his best, he’s an offensive talent and a guy who can make a difference in a game,” Laviolette said of Kuznetsov. “He’s an effortless skater. He can consume minutes without a lot of wear and tear on himself because he skates so well.”
With Kuznetsov already missing the start of the series and Eller having to leave Game 2, the Capitals were down to just two natural centermen — Nicklas Backstrom and Nic Dowd — in their eventual 4-3 overtime defeat to Boston.
As was the case during the regular season, the versatile T.J. Oshie has filled in at center on an emergency basis, although the natural winger admits it’s not exactly his comfort zone. Trade Deadline acquisition Michael Raffl can also play center, if needed.
Eller’s potential absence, though, is significant given his two-way game. Eller and linemates Conor Sheary and Raffl were leaned on heavily to start the series in a shutdown role opposite Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
With Kuznetsov missing the final five games of the regular season, Eller already saw increased ice time down the stretch. Laviolette noted before the Boston series that Eller was playing some of his best hockey just in time for the playoffs.
“Maybe it goes quietly because there are some bigger names here, but I think Lars has been one of our top players in the last two weeks,” Laviolette said before the postseason. “With the role that he’s played, moving up in minutes and the way he’s played both offensively and defensively, he’s been on point.”
If Eller is unavailable, that would also hurt the Capitals in the faceoff circle, where the Bruins have already had a significant edge through the first two games. The Bruins, who were the top-rated faceoff team in the regular season, have won 61.5% of the draws so far in this series.
Eller held his own, winning 17 of the 35 draws he took (48.6%) in Games 1 and 2, but the rest of the Capitals combined to win just 33 of 95 (34.7%).
“That’s possession,” Laviolette said. “That’s clear-cut possession … There’s no question that it matters. We’ll try to look at it and continue to see if there are things we can do. They have a good faceoff team and we’re going to have to find way to improve that number.”