Lars Eller spoke to reporters for the first time since getting out of quarantine on Wednesday morning. The Capitals’ third-line center missed Game One of the Capitals’ first-round series against the New York Islanders, a 4-2 loss, and will return to the lineup for Game Two, subbing in for the injured Nicklas Backstrom.
“I love when those challenges happen,” Eller said of moving up into a top-six role. “I don’t change the way I think about the game or prepare myself. I think it’ll basically mean I’ll be playing more minutes than I otherwise would. My mentality is the same: try to go out there and play a strong two-way game and create offense every shift. I’ve had very good experience playing with Osh and V in the past.”
But Eller’s experience leaving the bubble was not as good. The Danish center had to make a painful decision to limit his possible exposure to COVID-19 and his four days quarantined away from his teammates in a Hotel X room made him feel helpless.
“First off, it wasn’t particularly fun sitting in your room for four days, missing out,” Eller said. “Not being able to be with family or help your team. You’re in sort of a no man’s land, not doing anything good. That was tough, but that made it that much better to get out.”
While alone in his hotel room, Eller read books, watched a bunch of television, FaceTime’d his family, and worked out.
“I had a couple of dumbbells in my room, elastic bands,” Eller said. “(Capitals) strength coach (Mark Nemish) gave me some workouts so I was doing one hour of actual work every day. But besides that, a lot of watching of hockey games and reading, trying to not look at screens the whole day. It’s tough. Obviously a lot of face time with the family back in DC. It was a weird situation. The whole thing is weird. Being in this bubble, leaving, coming back, and then go straight in a playoff game. You have to adapt to the situation but clearly not the ideal preparation.”
He added, “None of us are used to sitting on our couch for that long. We’re used to being active, being on the ice playing games. Like six out of seven days of the week. It doesn’t feel right. You don’t feel right after a couple days of doing so little.”
Eller first left Toronto the afternoon of Wednesday, August 5, using a chartered flight. He spent only two-and-a-half days at home in DC before flying back. Eller described his time at home with tiny Alexander “priceless.”
#Caps center Lars Eller has returned to Washington this afternoon for the birth of his second child. Upon returning to Toronto, Eller will follow the NHL’s quarantine and testing protocol before rejoining the team.
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) August 5, 2020
“Alexander was born on August 4. I basically gave up being at the birth,” Eller said. “That was the only way to go around being at the hospital. I would have to serve way more than four days of quarantine. I didn’t know if it was going to be seven or eight, or nine days or 10 or two weeks. It would have been a lot more than four days.”
“That was a sacrifice I made,” he explained. “I still got some time with my family. But yeah, not the ideal situation for me. That’s what I did.”
Eller returned to the bubble the morning of Saturday, August 8. He got picked up at the airport, went to the hotel, was tested, and taken straight to his new hotel room. He remained there alone for the next four days. Room service and NHL testing officials visited his room every day. Once Eller had four consecutive negative tests, he was allowed to rejoin his teammates.
“[T]he day of Game One, in the morning, was the first time out of my room since I came in,” Eller said. “Went for a walk outside. Got some time in the sun. Had a good workout with the aces. Watched the game at the rink. Had a good practice this morning and now we’re here.”
Now Eller will turn his attention to a series where his team is already down 1-0 to a formidable foe in the New York Islanders, which is coached by Barry Trotz – the same man who led the Caps to their first Stanley Cup in 2018. Backstrom, the team’s greatest center of all-time, will be out due to what appears to be a head injury. Eller has produced for the Caps when he’s had to sub in for Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov, posting 17 points (2g, 15a) in 26 games.\
“You have to be able to adapt to the situation,” Eller said. “We all had to adapt, whether its hockey or most people on this planet. Now it’s just hockey and the game tomorrow. There’s no other distractions or worries.”
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