Tied atop NHL, Capitals get players back from virus protocol

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Tied for the most points in the NHL, the Washington Capitals are faring better in the ongoing battle against the coronavirus than many of their rivals.

The Capitals navigated a stretch in which top players Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and others went into league COVID-19 protocol and are no longer missing any players at practice because of virus-related reasons. Defenseman Martin Fehervary and goaltender Vitek Vanecek were back on the ice Tuesday and appear on track to play in Washington’s next game Friday at the St. Louis Blues.

“You always want to be as healthy as possible,” defenseman John Carlson said. “And whether that’s real injuries or the other stuff, it’s great to see guys (back). No one wants to be away from the guys. No one wants to be away from the rink. It takes a toll on guys.”

It’s taking a toll around the league, with dozens of players — including Toronto’s Auston Matthews — on virus protocol and teams playing with lineups full of taxi squad and minor league call-ups. A total of 92 games have been postponed so far, many for Canadian crowd restrictions in the hope of pushing them back to a time in which fans are allowed to attend.

Much like Washington, the Dallas Stars are getting healthier after an outbreak. They activated captain Jamie Benn a day after getting 10 other players and two support staff back. Dallas is set to host Florida on Thursday, its first game since Dec. 20.

“We’ve done everything we can, and there’s no substitute at all for playing a game,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “Now it’s been 17 days before we play, and that’s going to be noticeable. And there’s nothing we can do about that. We skated them. We’ve worked as hard as we could with the numbers that we’ve had. The guys that were sick, they need time to get their legs back under them.”

Buffalo now has nine players on the COVID protocol list after adding forwards Anders Bjork, Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch. San Jose captain Logan Couture and forward Lane Pederson, New Jersy forwards Pavel Zacha and Yegor Sharangovich, Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux and defenseman Ivan Provorov, and Boston winger Jake DeBrusk also went into protocol.

The Capitals were without five players for virus reasons when the team returned from the extended Christmas break Dec. 27. Despite being ravaged by cases and injuries, they’ve gone 2-0-1 since and are tied with the division-rival New York Rangers with a league-high 48 points.

“For the most part I think our guys did a good job in spite of everything that had happened,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We want to win the first game of the year, we want to win the 10th game of the year, and if you can play well enough, which I think we have in a lot of games, then you can put points in the column and right now it’s just math. Just add it up and this is where we sit.”

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