While the unofficial second half of the season for the Capitals starts Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, their optional skate on Monday afternoon was a not-so-friendly reminder of the issues that plagued them in the first part of the year.
The Capitals did not have goaltenders Vitek Vanecek (upper-body injury) or Ilya Samsonov at the skate. Pheonix Copley was the netminder at practice (along with video coach Brett Leonhardt).
Additionally, forwards Alex Ovechkin, Connor McMichael and T.J. Oshie (upper-body) were not in attendance. The team was awaiting more COVID-19 test results as well.
Coach Peter Laviolette said the team’s goaltending situation is up in the air for Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jackets.
“We’re going through things in here and from some of the guys that weren’t on the ice I have to go back and find out where everything sits now with these guys with more testing going on,” Laviolette said.
As for the forward units, Ovechkin tested positive just before the NHL All-Star weekend and missed the festivities in Las Vegas. He was scheduled to be the team captain for the Metropolitan Division. But that means he is eligible to return to action Tuesday if he clears COVID protocol. Even if he does, however, he will be unavailable to play Thursday in Montreal due to Canadian travel restrictions.
“I think it depends on how he feels,” Laviolette said of Ovechkin playing Tuesday. “Last time he was out I think for 10 days or 11 days, there’s no way you’re going to keep him out of the lineup. I would imagine only being out for six days, he’d want to jump back in there.”
The team did get back defenseman Michal Kempny from COVID protocol. He was placed in protocol on Jan. 28 in Dallas and Monday was his first time back on the ice in Arlington. He is available for Tuesday’s game should the Capitals need him.
On the injury front, Laviolette said both Oshie and Anthony Mantha (shoulder surgery) are progressing. While the team hopes Oshie’s return to the lineup is sooner rather than later, Mantha’s return to the lineup is still months away.
“Hopefully, we see him out on the ice at some point, maybe not with us, but just getting back out on the ice and getting into a rhythm with what he's doing out there,” Laviolette said of Mantha. “And so everybody's in a different situation, there's a lot of question marks that remain.”
Taxi squads are now gone since the All-Star game has passed, meaning the Capitals and teams around the league will no longer have that safety net.