The Washington Capitals got a positive sign to open the New Year, with five of their six players on COVID-19 protocol returning to the ice for Saturday’s practice.
Daniel Sprong, Justin Schultz, Nick Jensen, Dennis Cholowski and Vitek Vanecek were all back at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. Martin Fehervary is still out. All five are cleared to return to practice but still remain on protocol, per The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir.
Lars Eller did not skate as he continues to deal with a non-COVID illness. Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov took maintenance days, and Matt Irwin didn’t skate (personal). Ovechkin broke the NHL’s all-time power-play goals record on Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Getting a handful of defensemen back is a major plus for Washington, who has been without three of their regular top-6 for the last two games. With the Capitals shorthanded, Michal Kempny, Alex Alexeyev and Lucas Johansen got to make their season debuts.
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Kempny has been strong in his first two regular-season games since March 2020, skating well, keeping the puck out of danger and showing speed and good awareness at both ends.
“It’s awesome,” Carlson said of No. 6’s return. “We’ve talked about it a number of times in the past, but what he’s been through and how dedicated he is, it’s great to see. He was playing great in Hershey like we all expected him to, really getting his game back, getting his feeling back, working harder than anybody down there. It’s nice to see him come up… there was a lot of D out and he certainly did more than fill a role.”
Meanwhile, Johansen picked up his first NHL assist in his debut against Detroit and skated 12:18 minutes against the Wings.
“It was pretty cool. Every kid playing hockey growing up you wanna play in the NHL… I tried to just focus in and not really look around and take it in but definitely now that it’s over I can in retrospect really enjoy tonight,” Johansen said of his first game.
Alexeyev dished a hit and two PIM through 10:35 minutes in his debut.
“Think it was pretty good game for me. Play hard, play simple. Nothing too crazy. I’m still happy, I think it’s really good gift for me for the Christmas,” Alexeyev noted of his debut.
Washington will play host to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday afternoon. Right now, the five players skating are technically still on COVID-19 protocol but will be activated when they return to the lineup.