- The Washington Times
Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Washington Capitals will be without Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov for at least four games after they violated the NHL’s coronavirus protocols on the team’s season-opening road trip.

Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said those four players will enter quarantine after a close contact with a positive case. The league fined the Capitals $100,000 on Wednesday for breaking coronavirus protocols, which involved players meeting in close proximity in a hotel room without masks.

The Washington Post reported Samsonov tested positive Tuesday night, resulting in Ovechkin, Orlov and Kuznetsov being added to the protocol-related absences list.

“I know that there was a positive case and through their tracing and their tracking the players were honest with what they did,” Laviolette said. “I guess what I’m saying is I don’t know the exact chain myself of how things happened, but there was a determination that there were four players that were close contacts and from there they now have to quarantine.”

Laviolette said he spoke with Ovechkin on Wednesday and texted with the group of players who are now in quarantine. Washington held a team meeting Thursday to reiterate the protocols so another violation doesn’t take place.

But even before the refresher course on protocols, Laviolette, winger T.J. Oshie and center Nicklas Backstrom said the rules are clear and there wasn’t confusion.

“Everyone watches a video together, and the rules are right there,” Oshie said. “I think it’s pretty clear. There is times when, if you’re training after the game, should you have a mask on or not? If you’re not training that hard, do you need your mask on?

“There’s some areas where, I don’t if everyone knows every specific little rule,” Oshie continued. “But for the most part, we know the social distancing, we know we’re supposed to have our masks on, and do all the right stuff that we saw in the video and that our training staff has told us.”

Players do not need to test positive to be added to the protocol-related absences list.

Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Orlov will quarantine after that close contact with Samsonov. They’ll miss four games over the next week: two against the Buffalo Sabres, including Friday’s home opener, and two against the New York Islanders.

Questions have been raised regarding the seemingly harsh nature of the fine and the violation for teammates to congregate in a hotel room, considering they skate on the ice and sit on the bench together without masks.

Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya Shubskaya, posted a message on Instagram to that effect Thursday.

“Of course, you can’t catch the virus when you and your teammates sit on the bench, hug each other when they score a goal, or when they are all together in the lounge or locker room,” Shubskaya wrote.

According to the NHL’s coronavirus guidelines, the use of single occupancy rooms is required, and guests — even teammates — aren’t allowed to visit.

“That’s obviously a tough one to negotiate, I think,” Backstrom said. “That’s just how it is playing hockey. I mean, we can’t play with masks on and this is the way it’s played. But certain protocols were set before the season and we knew about them. But yeah, that’s obviously a tough one and you can’t really bend that one.”

With a positive case for Samsonov, Ovechkin, Orlov and Kuznetsov will also have to quarantine. The earliest they’ll be eligible to return is for Jan. 30’s contest against the Boston Bruins, but Laviolette said the players will be subject to a review before they’re allowed back.

With four key players missing, the value of depth and the taxi squad shines through. With no Ovechkin on the top line, winger Jakub Vrana skated with the first line Thursday in practice. Jonas Siegenthaler filled in for Orlov in defense.

Washington promoted 39-year-old netminder Craig Anderson from the taxi squad to cover for Samsonov’s absence, and the team added 20-year-old center Connor McMichael to the taxi squad, having completed his quarantine period after competing in the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships with Canada.

“For me it’s an opportunity for those players to step into a lineup,” Laviolette said. “I remember when I first got here and I talked about the group of 23 and then the importance of the taxi squad. It’s an important part of the team and you start to see how important that depth is right now.”

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