COVID Protocols Challenge the Caps
What started out as a casual night of TV with teammates became a very expensive event for four Washington Capitals players. These players are all key members of the team’s starting lineup, and they all happen to be Russian. The group includes team captain Alex Ovechkin, forward Evgeny Kuznetzov, defender Dmitry Orlov and starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov. The players were suspended for four games, and the Capitals organization was fined $100,000.
This interference of COVID-19 in the sports world was not the first. All leagues have had to shorten or postpone their seasons or lose players due to the transmission of the virus. The National Hockey League altered the divisions and schedule of their normal 82-game season to a 56-game season. The NHL also released strict protocols for teams to follow to ensure the safety of anyone involved in the season. The guidelines outline specific cleaning protocols from sanitizing elevator buttons to restrictions for traveling, such as controlling how a player can get food delivered safely. The four Capitals players violated the travel protocol that teammates are not allowed to socialize together in the hotel.
Every team was clearly briefed on the protocols, according to Capitals coach Peter Laviolette. In a news conference, he said, “We’re not sitting here saying that we were uninformed or we weren’t aware. We need to do a better job”. Ovechkin issued his own statement conveying his regret.
The Caps were concerned about having to play four games without those key players. Ovechkin is the team’s top goalscorer and has provided eight 50+ goal seasons in his 17 seasons playing with Washington. Kuznetzov is a valuable playmaker contributing 33 assists in the previous season. Orlov is an important member of the Caps’ defense because of his speed and offensive mindset. Samsonov tested positive for COVID-19 after the incident and left the team in the hands of a backup goaltender who had never played in an NHL game.
The Caps were able to survive without their top players by going 3-0-1 (3 wins and one shootout loss). In their first game against the Sabers on January 22, the regulation game ended with a 3-3 tie and finished with a shootout win. J.J. Regan of “NBCSports Washington” credits this victory to the big saves of rookie goalie Vitek Vanecek. During the third period, the Caps lost another important player, Tom Wilson, because of a lower-body injury. In their next game against the Sabers, the Caps once again held the game to 3-3 but lost in a shootout. The team won their next two games against the New York Islanders with the four Russians sidelined and other players injured.
The past four games could have been worse. A lot, however, remains to be considered: why would the players risk their health and the health of their teammates for a night of fun? That doesn’t seem like captain behavior to me, Ovi! Ovechkin's wife also responded. She felt that the organization was purposefully singling out the Russians. It is clear that the COVID protocols are in place for a reason because the infraction resulted in a positive case for Samsonov. Since leagues and organizations have been jumping through hoops to get their seasons off the ground, people may be wondering why we should have a season at all. However, I’m just glad it gives me something to write about!