Just as it appeared the Washington Capitals were moving on from their COVID-19 situation, they saw another key player enter the NHL’s protocol. Evgeny Kuznetsov is unavailable due to COVID-19 protocol and will not be available on Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It is unclear at this time whether or not Kuznetsov has tested positive. He is the fifth player to go on COVID-19 protocol this season, joining Nic Dowd, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Garnet Hathaway and Lars Eller. Dowd and Van Riemsdyk are expected to come off the COVID-19 protocol and are expected to play on Wednesday in Chicago.
Dowd tested positive on Dec. 3, and TVR went into protocol on Dec. 4. Hathaway remains in D.C. and has been on protocol since Dec. 7. Eller was the first Capitals player to contract COVID-19 this season, testing positive in Anaheim. As a result, he quarantined for 10 days in California and missed six straight games. The team was fully vaccinated to start the 2021-22 campaign.
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Kuznetsov joins several players across the league that have entered protocol in the last 72 hours. And, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the league has notified teams and players of enhanced protocols through at least Jan. 7, including indoor dining restrictions, daily testing and more. The omicron variant is also present. A number of games have also been postponed due to the virus.
The 29-year-old has been having an outstanding bounce-back season with nine goals and 30 points through 28 games so far this season. His standout year comes after an inconsistent, tough 2020-21 season, where he tested positive for COVID-19 twice while posting just 29 points in 41 games.
“That s*** bothers me a lot,” Kuznetsov said of his COVID-19 experience. “You know, in the summer, I was able to train well, without you know, like, I can breathe well, so I can do all this stuff, so that’s helped me a lot. I didn’t say I had the worst year, you know, in my head because I knew how hard it was for me last year.”
It will be a tough loss for the Capitals, who are already missing Wilson. However, the Capitals activated Nicklas Backstrom from the long-term injured reserve. He will make his season debut, which should help fill Kuznetsov’s void. It is unclear how Kuznetsov’s absence will impact the lineup. Backstrom, in turn, could be the one to move up to fill in for Kuznetsov at center between Alex Ovechkin and Aliaksei Protas.