The Washington Capitals’ first round-robin game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be aired on NBC Sports Washington and Capitals Radio — like usual. But the coronavirus pandemic has changed practically everything else.
First off, none of the broadcasts will happen on location from inside the bubble. Descriptions and analysis will be coming from watching a live feed of the games from nearby monitors. There will be no crowds, only piped-in crowd noise.
Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin will call the game from NBC Sports Washington’s studio in Bethesda, Maryland. Rob Carlin will host the pre- and post-game shows from a different room at NBCSWSH headquarters, while Alan May provides color from inside his bedroom studio in Georgetown. May added it’s “where all of the magic happens,” which I think is in reference to his great analysis.
In Bethesda, Beninati and Laughlin must have their temperatures taken before they’re allowed in, there are certain parts of the studio they cannot enter, and they are mandated to wear masks. The two long-time friends will stand six feet apart, separated by a large plastic divider.
“There are lots and lots of precautions,” Laughlin said of NBCWSH’s protocols. “The setup is very, very well done.”
Beninati and Laughlin called their first live socially distant hockey game on Wednesday when the Capitals took on the Carolina Hurricanes in an exhibition. NBCSWSH provided Beninati and Laughlin with four big monitors that show every angle of every play. All the equipment and furniture was wiped down and there was hand sanitizer everywhere.
“Honestly, it was second nature to call the game from here,” Laughlin said. “In the past, we have called some preseasons games from the studio and it works great. Lucky for me, Joe B. never gets a player wrong! So I just feed off of him to analyze what happened.”
There are some things that Locker is still getting used to though.
“The weirdest thing is we each have a single camera for on-camera so I can’t turn and look at Joe,” Laughlin said. “I have to look straight ahead. When the game is happening, we still interact around the plastic curtain and we can signal.”
Former Capital Alan May, who is wearing a suit in his bedroom, went all-out for his setup at home. He commissioned a painting from Taylor Kampa Olson, which (humbly) shows May skating with Alex Ovechkin. The players are divided by the Capitol Dome and the team’s Weagle logo.
I asked May what it was like to make fun of me for nearly a decade blogging “out of my mom’s basement” yet now he’s doing essentially the same thing as me for his coverage.
“I’m above ground,” May quipped. “Fifth floor. Wait until I get the elevator fixed.”
Eight point three miles away at Capital One Arena, John Walton will do the radio call with Ken Sabourin. They ironically have set up shop where Joe and Craig usually are. Social distancing is also in effect.
“Funny enough, we are using the TV booth while Joe and Craig work out of Bethesda,” Walton said. “We’ll be using three booths, Caps TV is now Caps Radio, Caps Radio is now engineering for both Caps and Wizards, and Wizards radio will be utilizing visiting radio for hockey. It’s possible that if Caps and Wizards play at the same time, Dave Johnson and I will be calling different games less than 60 feet apart. We have three monitors, live cam, a backup, and a multi-box screen with game clock and alternate angles. It’s surreal to be calling a game in the arena with no fans, but at least it feels normal coming to work in the same place we would normally.”
Walton, as part of the Capitals Radio Network, will call every playoff game. 106.7 The Fan will serve as the flagship station on FM while WFED 1500 will host games on the AM dial.
Socially distant pregame meal location. Tremendous view, but lonely without y’all here. Thinking of all of you. Better days. pic.twitter.com/HON9FFQwg1
— John Walton (@WaltonCaps) August 3, 2020
“I’m definitely excited to be back,” Walton said. “Wish we were on-site, but I’m in complete agreement that this is the safest way to do the games. Maybe on the off days, Joe B and I can get back on the golf course. It’s just great to be back to work, regardless of world circumstances.
Walton did add one benefit of the early 4 PM starts.
“Day games are good, we’re home for dinner!”
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