- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2021

Tom Wilson doesn’t know when the Washington Capitals will have a break like this again, facing a week-long gap between games because of three coronavirus-related postponements. If everything goes well moving forward — and so far, plenty hasn’t gone well — then Washington will soon resume the near-nightly grind of games until May.

So in this unexpected hiatus, there’s plenty on the Capitals’ to-do list. Suddenly, an injury-ravaged team has time to rest and recharge. With a slew of players missing here and there over the first month of the season, they now have the chance to train at full strength once more, mastering a new coach’s ideology.

And without an opponent on the immediate horizon, Washington can look inward, analyzing the good and the bad from 12 contests that yielded 15 points.

“It’s a time to look at the systems in more detail and learn and do video and go out and practice hard and stay in shape and take care of the body,” Wilson said. “We have to take the rest when it’s here and be sharp with our game and our details in practice.”

The Capitals are in this position after coronavirus cases popped up on the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres, pushing back three matchups this week. League-wide, coronavirus issues have derailed 35 games in the first month of play.

The NHL has tried to curb the spread of the virus through a series of new protocols, limiting the time players spend at the rink by advising virtual meetings. The glass behind the benches has been removed, trying to add more airflow.

“I think it’s definitely a concern,” defenseman John Carlson said when asked about the possibility of the season spiraling. “Before the year a realistic person would have probably not thought this was going to go like it did in the bubble, and certainly it kind of has seemed to play out just like what’s going on around us. So in many ways, I don’t want to say I expected it, but I think from the league’s perspective or players’, I think we knew it wasn’t going to go perfectly.”

Given the time off, though, Washington has a chance to ease back in a litany of players who have missed time the last three weeks. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov spent two weeks on the coronavirus protocol list before they were activated Monday. Jakub Vrana returned from the list Tuesday after a short stint.

The injuries piled up as well. Wilson, center Lars Eller, wingers T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary, and defenseman Justin Schultz missed various amounts of time. But that group all took the ice Thursday for practice, and coach Peter Laviolette said Washington should have a “full complement of players” come Sunday’s matchup with the Penguins.

“It’s nice to see when everyone’s back and healthy,” center Nicklas Backstrom said, “and hopefully we can reset here and go from here.”

However, there’s work to be done before Sunday. The Capitals have liked parts of their performances from their first 12 games, but defensive mishaps have allowed opponents to crawl back into contests — Washington blew leads in two of its last three losses.

The break allows the team to study those outings, pinpointing a lack of togetherness in the defensive zone and passivity in the third period as primary culprits for the dip in form. But takeaways from those matchups are complicated by the ever-changing personnel used.

And with a break now, the schedule later could be even more compressed to find makeup dates, leaving Washington with a hectic conclusion to the regular season. But after three weeks filled with lineup adjustments to cover for an abundance of absences, the Capitals will take any rest available.

“It’s been a weird year,” Wilson said. “Obviously ups and downs, guys in and out of the lineup. That will probably be a theme for the whole year, but it is good timing for us to reset, focus on our game, get some key guys back.”

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