- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2020

In a normal year, Peter Laviolette would’ve been at the rink a month before the season started. He wouldn’t be allowed to coach his players, but he’d bump into them in the hall, chat over breakfast or dinner, getting to know them beyond their roles on the ice.

But as Laviolette prepares for his first season as the Washington Capitals’ head coach, the 56-year-old doesn’t have that luxury. Alex Ovechkin texted Laviolette the other night, asking if his new coach wanted to catch dinner.

“I said, ‘I’m quarantining right now, I can’t go,’” Laviolette said during Tuesday’s Zoom conference call. “That’s just a typical thing. That would’ve been a chance to maybe grab Alex and just go out and just talk a little bit.”

Instead, those conversations have taken place over phone calls and Zoom.

Hired as Washington’s new coach in September, and with 18 years of head-coaching experience behind him, Laviolette knows how a typically-run training camp goes.

He — and the rest of the NHL — are navigating a shortened preseason without the usual exhibition games, limiting the time a new coach has to implement his philosophies. So between training camp starting Jan. 3 and the team’s Jan. 14 season opener, Laviolette hopes to get everyone on the same page.

“There’s time. Even though it’s a shortened camp, there’s time to get things in place,” Laviolette said. “I’ve been in situations where I’ve taken over in the middle of the year, I’ve gone over to coach a World Championship team, and it’s literally one practice and you get going. So there’s a lot of work to be done, but I know everybody’s eager to get back to work as well.”

Laviolette said every player is back in the area, although some need to complete quarantines before they can enter the practice facility. The coach anticipates everyone will be available once Jan. 3 arrives. Without exhibitions, Laviolette plans to run at least two scrimmages, replicating game situations while practicing the team’s power play and penalty kill.

When the season does arrive, the Capitals will play in the new East Division, facing other teams in the Northeast eight times each. There will be back-to-back games, restricted travel and new protocols, including mask wearing for coaches while behind the bench.

“Probably be good for me,” Laviolette said. “Nobody will see what’s coming out of my mouth, so my mother will be happy, I think.”

Laviolette has led teams to three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, with his lone win coming in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. He most recently coached the Nashville Predators, but he was fired in January 2020.

By the time Jan. 14 rolls around — Washington’s season opener against the Buffalo Sabres — it will have been about a year since Laviolette last coached a game. He admitted that when he left Florida, he told his wife, Kristen, that he felt anxious to get started again.

He’ll have 11 days between the start of training camp and the Capitals’ first game to get back in rhythm. But there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing, even if the upcoming season is the most unique of his coaching career.

“What I always find is, it’s kind of like riding a bicycle. The anxiousness is a good thing,” Laviolette said. “I’ve been off for a while. I’m looking to shake the rust off pretty quick and get back at it.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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