Just as the Capitals seemed to be getting healthier, they were dealt more bad news Wednesday afternoon when the team announced center Evgeny Kuznetsov would be unavailable for Wedesday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks due to the NHL's COVID-19 protocol.
Center Nic Dowd and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk were activated from the COVID-19 protocol list shortly after the Kuznetsov announcement and are expected to play Wednesday. Washington forward Garnet Hathaway remains in protocol.
On the injury front, the team activated center Nicklas Backstrom (hip) off the non-roster injured list as he is expected to get into the lineup for the first time this season against the Blackhawks. Winger Tom Wilson is still working his way back from an upper-body injury.
Now, the Capitals have more issues to deal with as they will be down another top-six center.
Kuznetsov is in the midst of one of his best NHL seasons through 28 games. He has 30 points and has centered a line with Alex Ovechkin and a rotating cast of wingers on the right side. Even through relative instability, the Capitals’ top line has been one of the best lines in hockey through the first third of the season.
Kuznetsov was placed in COVID protocol twice last year, and both times were confirmed positive tests. He had trouble breathing, he said, during his first bout with COVID early last season. He was able to return in the middle of the first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins after his second positive test in May.
The news about Kuznetsov came at a time when pro sports as a whole are facing a resurgence of COVID-19 in their respective leagues. The Calgary Flames added 17 members of the organization to the team's COVID-19 protocols Wednesday. They will not play until next week at the earliest — or perhaps until after Christmas. The outbreak has now reached 27 members of the team.
The NHL announced it will be in enhanced COVID protocols until early 2022 at the least.
Kuznetsov is far from the only player in the NHL to have entered COVID protocols in recent days as multiple teams, in both Canada and the United States, have been affected to varying degrees.
The NHLPA is set to have a call Wednesday night to discuss COVID-19 protocols across the sport. There is also set to be another, separate, call about the league's participation in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing Wednesday night as well.