By Ian Oland
The Washington Capitals were without four key players for their season finale against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. TJ Oshie and John Carlson missed the game due to lower-body injuries. Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov weren’t at the arena for other reasons.
Last week, Kuznetsov and Samsonov were suspended by the Capitals due to being late to some type of team function. The next day, Evgeny Kuznetsov landed on the COVID-19 Unavailability List while Samsonov was buried on the Capitals taxi squad, where it does not have to be reported if he’s in protocol or not.
On May 7, however, Capitals’ head coach Peter Laviolette let the cat out of the bag. “They’re both on [it],” he said.
Tuesday, Kuznetsov remained in protocol for the ninth straight day. It’s fair to assume Samsonov joined him on the list too. The NHL publishes updates around 5 PM every day.
Here’s the full list via the NHL’s media site:
COVID Protocol Related Absences – May 12, 2021:
Boston – none
Calgary – none
Carolina – none
Colorado – Devan Dubnyk
Edmonton – none
Florida – none
Los Angeles – none
Minnesota – none
Montreal – none
Nashville – none
NY Islanders – none
Ottawa – none
Pittsburgh – none
San Jose – none
St. Louis – Jake Walman
Tampa Bay – none
Toronto – none
Vancouver – none
Vegas – none
Washington – Evgeny Kuznetsov
Winnipeg – none
Both Kuznetsov and Samsonov contracted COVID-19 during the team’s first road trip of the season in January. Kuznetsov, Samsonov, Alex Ovechkin, and Dmitry Orlov gathered in the same hotel room maskless while playing video games and watching UFC fights. All four players were put in protocol and the Capitals were fined as a team. Ovechkin and Orlov returned to the team after 10 days on the list while Kuznetsov and Samsonov contracted the disease and needed 19 days to come back.
Kuznetsov said then, when he returned, that “I’m just happy I’m alive” while Samsonov revealed he had trouble breathing and walking.
“I just want to say, there was a moment when I woke up, and almost cried happy tears when I realized I can walk and breathe,” Kuznetsov said. “There were some moments. Difficult. Everything happens for the first time, you never know what to expect next. The way this disease goes – one day you are fine, the next day it’s bad. Only those who got sick with symptoms will understand what I am talking about. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
While you can still test positive for COVID-19 after fighting off the disease or being vaccinated, the two players’ trip to purgatory could be similar to what happened before: some type of violation in the NHL’s code of conduct during the pandemic.
The NHL lists these reasons for why players can land in protocol:
Continuing for the balance of the 2020-21 season, the NHL is sharing the names of Players who are “unavailable” to the Club (to practice, travel or play in games) due to COVID protocols. Such “COVID Protocol Related Absences” can be the result of a number of factors including, among others: (1) an initial positive test which remains unconfirmed until confirmatory testing is completed pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol; (2) mandated isolation for symptomatic individuals pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol; (3) required quarantine as a high-risk close contact in accordance with the Positive Test Protocol; (4) isolation based on a confirmed positive test result and/or; (5) quarantine for travel or other reasons as outlined in the COVID-19 Protocol.
Even in a best-case scenario where Kuznetsov and Samsonov return to the team on Thursday, it’s unclear how much of a role, if any, they’ll play in the Capitals’ first-round series against the Bruins, which begins Saturday night. Players in protocol (from my best understanding) must quarantine and can only work out individually away from the team. A week-and-a-half layoff would make any player’s timing and conditioning off – unless that player is Alex Ovechkin.
“You saw Ovi jump back on Day 1,” Laviolette said. “You’ve seen others take longer. I think that’s a person-to-person, how-they-come-out-of-the-situation [thing] or what they being on the list for. So there are different things that go with that. I think we’ll just go slow with it and take things day-to-day.”
Combine the discipline aspect and it’s even more of a wildcard how much trust the team will give Kuznetsov and Samsonov when they come back. Vitek Vanecek seems all but certain to assume the starter’s role in net while several reports surfaced that Kuznetsov could be traded in the offseason.
The Capitals’ first postseason practice will be held Thursday at 11 AM. We could learn more then.
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