The Washington Capitals will be without four key players, including the star forward Alex Ovechkin, for at least four games after the team was found to have violated the N.H.L.’s health and safety protocols and fined $100,000 by the league on Wednesday.
A group of the team’s Russian players — Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman Dmitry Orlov and goalie Ilya Samsonov — were socializing in a hotel room during a road trip. The league said that the Capitals were castigated for “social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings.”
The team and Ovechkin issued separate statements Wednesday expressing disappointment and regret regarding the incident.
“We knew the rules,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said in a news conference Thursday. “We’re not sitting here saying that we were uninformed or we weren’t aware. We need to do a better job.”
Forward T.J. Oshie said that while the procedures and protocols may be unpleasant, he and his teammates understood why they were in place given the state of the pandemic. He dismissed the idea that it seemed incongruous that players can mingle in close quarters on the ice and be on the bench maskless, but not away from the rink.
“We control what we know we can control, right? I can’t go out there and give my best effort if I am wearing a mask and can’t breathe on the bench,” Oshie said. “At the same token, when we’re on the bus or doing other things where I can control that, that’s where the rules are set in for us.”
Laviolette was unaware if the Capitals had reported the incident themselves or if it had been uncovered by some other means, but said he believed that the league had learned more about it as a result of contact tracing from a positive case.
With the four players out, the Capitals will lose a top-line winger, a second-line center, the starting goalie and the second most-used Washington defenseman from their lineup. Ovechkin is one of eight players who have scored 700 or more goals, sitting one behind the Capitals legend Mike Gartner for seventh on the career list and 187 behind Wayne Gretzky’s record. There are only 56 games on this season’s condensed schedule, as opposed to the usual 82, magnifying the importance of each contest.
The Capitals’ absences were just the latest instance of the virus affecting the season, which started last Wednesday.
Before the season even began, 17 Dallas Stars players tested positive and the league delayed the start of the team’s season.
The 2021 campaign was not yet a week old when five Carolina Hurricanes were placed into Covid-19-related protocol and quarantine, leading to the postponement of their game on Tuesday and then at least two more games.The N.H.L. said the Hurricanes were not found to have violated of any protocols. And the Los Angeles Kings started the season without five players — three of them regulars — because of contact tracing.
While Carolina’s games were rescheduled, the Kings’ were not, and no such reprieve seems imminent for the Capitals, who are set to host the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. Teams like Winnipeg and Columbus have canceled or held players out of practices, but only Dallas, Carolina and their opponents have had games moved. The league has said it will postpone and reschedule games on a case-by-case basis, and Laviolette was unaware if the protocol violation influenced its decision in his team’s case.
“Those are four big pieces for us and important pieces,” Laviolette said. “So they’ll be missed. It’s a difficult thing. We totally understand why the rules are in place and there’s no arguing with that.”