Evgeny Kuznetsov could return to the Washington Capitals lineup when they host the Philadelphia Flyers at Capital One Arena on Tuesday (6 p.m. ET; NBCSN, ESPN+, SN360, SNE, SNO, NBCSWA, NBCSP).
The forward and goalie Ilya Samsonov practiced with the Capitals on Monday for the first time since going into quarantine in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols Jan. 20. It’s unlikely Samsonov will play against the Flyers, but coach Peter Laviolette plans to speak with Kuznetsov after the morning skate Tuesday to determine if he’ll play.
“I had a quick conversation with [Kuznetsov] when the practice was over,” Laviolette said. “I think what we’re going to do is get together tomorrow. … We’ll have a conversation with ‘Kuzy’ on the ice and we’ll get a feel for where he’s at.”
Kuznetsov was unable to do any physical conditioning before his quarantine ended and he skated on his own Sunday, so he’s unsure if he’ll be able to play against the Flyers. He has missed the past eight games.
“We’re day to day, and it’s all about how I’m going to feel tomorrow,” Kuznetsov said. “I’m just happy I’m alive today, and to be able to practice with the team is just a big step for me.”
Kuznetsov confirmed he experienced COVID-19 symptoms during quarantine, but said he feels healthy now and has been cleared medically to play.
“It’s definitely not fun and it’s not easy days,” said Kuznetsov, who scored three points (one goal, two assists) in four games before entering quarantine. “Now I understand people who have symptoms or not symptoms, whatever, it’s just tough days, you know? But I’m feeling good now, and my heart is good, everything good, so I can practice hard. So that’s already passed.”
Kuznetsov practiced Monday on a line with Richard Panik and Daniel Sprong. Alex Ovechkin played against the Boston Bruins after his quarantine ended Jan. 30, but the left wing’s layoff wasn’t as long as Kuznetsov’s and he did not experience COVID-19 symptoms when he was in protocol.
“Alex was different,” Laviolette said. “This is [Kuznetsov’s] second day on the ice. I think Alex just went right into the fire and said he wanted to play. That was the conversation, direction we went in and we tried to limit his minutes to put him in an area where he felt good and comfortable, but as soon as he got past that, we started to load the minutes a little bit and double-shift a little bit to get him back into shape.”
Samsonov went on the ice for the first time Monday after riding the stationary bicycle Sunday. The 23-year-old last played Jan. 17 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and will need more practices to get his timing back.
“It’s really up to me how I progress,” Samsonov said through an interpreter. “I’m hoping tomorrow’s practice will be easier, and the day after will be easier as well, so I’m just kind of taking a one-day-at-a-time approach here, but I’m remaining positive.”
Like Kuznetsov, Samsonov was happy to be healthy again after having COVID-19 symptoms.
“There were a few days that were challenging for me,” he said. “Had trouble breathing for a little bit there and walking a bit. Couple days where I felt pretty sick, but I’m starting to feel better and I’m at the point now where I feel comfortable.”
Defenseman Justin Schultz also returned to practice for the first time since being struck in the face with the puck against the New York Islanders on Jan. 28. Schultz, who wore a full shield in practice, said he had some damage to his teeth and “a couple small fractures there, but nothing too serious.”
Schultz scored six points (two goals, four assists) and led the Capitals with a plus-9 rating in eight games before missing the past four. Although Laviolette said Schultz is day to day, he didn’t rule out playing Tuesday.
“I think tomorrow’s definitely in the air,” Shultz said. “We’ll see how I respond to this and go from there.”