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Capitals react to Evgeny Kuznetsov cocaine use and IIHF suspension

Capitals react to Evgeny Kuznetsov cocaine use and IIHF suspension

There was a notable absence from Capitals media day on Thursday. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov, suspended four years from international hockey for a positive cocaine test, wasn’t there to explain what happened during his tumultuous summer. It remains unclear if the NHL can discipline Kuznetsov for lying during an investigation after a video surfaced on social media showing Kuznetsov in a room with a powdery white substance that appeared to be cocaine. That video came out on May 27.  

Once the International Ice Hockey Federation suspended Kuznetsov June 13 for testing positive for cocaine on May 26, the day of the bronze medal game between Russia and the Czech Republic at the World Championships, the incident took on a different context. 

The NHL treats cocaine as a “drug of abuse” and pushes treatment, not punishment. Lying to the league and the Capitals during an investigation? That could be a different matter. For now, Washington and Kuznetsov wait for word. General manager Brian MacLellan wasn’t ready to say Kuznetsov’s drug use had any impact on his sometimes erratic play last season when he dropped to 72 points.

“That’s hard to say. You’d have to ask him that,” MacLellan said. “There’s no indication that those are correlated. It could’ve had an effect, or other stuff could’ve had an effect.”

You wouldn’t blame management or teammates for wondering, though. Kuznetsov has done all the right things this summer. He arrived back in Washington weeks before most of the organization’s other European players. He is taking part in the education and treatment options offered by the NHL Players Association. His teammates have noted all of that. 

“I don’t know, I mean, I made mistakes in my past. I missed a practice once and you know got in some trouble and I addressed the team,” T.J. Oshie said. “And sometimes it gets a little emotional, but I think Kuzy is a great guy. I think he’s a good teammate and he’s fun to play with, I sit next to him in the locker room during games. He’s a good person so I don’t think he has to say much to us. If he does, I think people will appreciate it, but he doesn’t have to say anything to me, that’s for sure. We want him to be good.”

That was a common theme from teammates throughout the day as they came out one after another for interviews. They professed support, not condemnation. If they wonder or worry if the drug affected Kuznetsov on the ice last season no one said that or even hinted at it. Most agreed with Oshie that even a team explanation was not necessary. 

“His mind is where he should (be) with training camp tomorrow,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “It’s very unfortunate what happened, but at the same time for us as friends I think it’s really important we support him no matter what and we’re going to fight this together as a family here.”

Ovechkin, his fellow Russian, called Kuznetsov after news of the suspension broke in August just to make sure his friend was okay, to let him know if he needed help. He, too, sees no need for an apology in front of the team. Consider it a hard lesson learned. 

“Not as the captain, as a friend and a close friend, I think we should support him,” Ovechkin said. “[Kuznetsov] realize he makes mistake. Everybody makes mistake in life, you guys as well. Sometimes the best thing is just support him and be at his side and don’t leave him alone. I think all other things you have to be with him and when it’s a hard moment you have to stay together.”  

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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Around the time when the Colorado Avalanche scored its fourth goal to take a 4-0 lead on Monday, the Twitter questions started rolling in. “When is Michal Kempny coming back?”

The Caps’ top-pair left defenseman has yet to play this season after tearing his hamstring in March. His loss was a major factor in the team’s first-round defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs and has led to inconsistent defensive play to start the season.

But the Caps’ defense is going to have to figure out how to defend against the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday without Kempny as head coach Todd Reirden declared after practice on Tuesday that Kempny will not play.

“We're getting close,” Reirden said. “That's at least today's report on him without having spoken to our trainer or team doctor anything right now. I just know that he took another step in terms of visually from me that he is getting closer and closer to game action.”

At the start of training camp, the hope was that Kempny would be able to return for the start of the season. He was not. The team elected not to place him on long-term injured reserve which requires a player to miss 10 games. Now seven games into the season, Kempny’s timetable remains uncertain.

When asked if he was hopeful Kempny could return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, Reirden did not sound all that confident.

“I am, yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful every time I walk into the training room.”

For the timeline to keep getting pushed back has raised concerns over whether Kempny has suffered a setback in his recovery, but Reirden insists that is not the case.

“There's not nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great.”

Kempny was cleared for contact on Oct. 2. and has been a full participant at practice ever since. Getting him back to a point where the doctors and the team can feel comfortable about getting him into the lineup, however, has proven difficult.

Even after losing four of their first seven games to start the season including all three home games, Reirden says the team is committed to remaining patient and cautious with Kempny’s recovery.

“It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” he said. “I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play.”