The last three Washington Capitals games have been postponed after COVID-19 outbreaks ravaged the NHL of late. On Wednesday night, the Caps will host the Nashville Predators, making it their first time hitting the ice in the last 10 days, since dropping a 3-2 contest to the Kings on December 19.
Peter Laviolette coached Washington through the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, so he’s no stranger to getting the team back in gear after time off. With so many moving parts, Washington’s conditioning is a clear-cut priority coming off the unscheduled break.
“I don’t think we are where we want to be [with conditioning],” Laviolette said Wednesday. “I think it’s impossible for us to be there, or for Nashville to be there, or for any other team in the league, and it’s been no fault of anybody’s. We tried to use the last couple days as a training camp. We’re working on systems and we’re trying to push the pace, and we’re doing some sprints inside of practice.”
Both Nashville and Washington have had to make major roster adjustments accounting for COVID protocols. Having three games cancelled might’ve been a blessing in disguise for the Caps, as several players including Daniel Sprong, Martin Fehervary, and Vitek Vanecek were all recently added to the reserve/COVID-19 list.
As Washington calls more players up from Hershey, like former Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Michal Kempny, the team is luckily able to get some players back from COVID protocols, such as Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. But it’s easier said than done to get those guys back up to full speed.
“That’s 10 days since we played a game. Remove the guys that are coming back tonight, like a guy like Kuznetsov, gone prior to that for 10 more games,” Laviolette said. “And so it sounds easy, right, just relying on what we know. But we’re trying to run refreshers on the ice at practice the last couple days… We got to do our best to get back up to speed as quick as we can.”
The Capitals will have another game postponed after the New Year as well: January 4 against Montreal due to Canadian attendance restrictions. Again, the Caps will take that time off as an opportunity to get back to a steady level of conditioning.
“We got a couple games here, but with the cancelled game on the fourth, that provides another block where we’re gonna get more guys out of protocol," Laviolette said. "We’re gonna take those days and we’re gonna use them the exact same way and try to push the pace, try to push the compete level and the battle level and just get guys ready.
"Then eventually, once we start playing games on a regular basis…maybe we can get back up to speed at that point. There’s no question that I don’t think that we’re there [in terms of conditioning], through no fault of anybody.”
Washington’s contest against Nasvhille on Wednesday will be the first time the Caps hit the ice in over a week, and also the first time Peter Laviolette will face his former team. He coached the Predators from 2014-2020.
It’ll be another opportunity for the Capitals to make up ground in the Metropolitan division as well. Washington is tied with Carolina for first in the division with 43 points on the year, but the Hurricanes have two games in hand.