Paul Byron

NHL plans to test players for COVID-19 daily if games resume

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Nick Foligno watches Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus briefings and appreciates the value of the information.

It is part of the reason the Columbus captain supports NHL players undergoing daily testing if the season resumes.

“Testing is a must because it’s the only way you’re going to know and feel confident every time you step on the ice that everyone is in the same boat as you and you can play the game to the best of your ability,” Foligno said.

The first major North American professional sports league to announce a format for its potential return to competition also has a comprehensive COVID-19 testing strategy. There are screening protocols in place for voluntary workouts and training camp in the hands of individual teams. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly also said the NHL plans to test all players every day when games start happening.

“We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we’ll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test,” Daly said. “It’s expensive, but we think it’s really a foundational element of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Each test costs approximately $125, the league says, and Commissioner Gary Bettman estimated 25,000-35,000 will be needed to get through the playoffs — a price tag, he concedes, of “millions of dollars.” But athletes have plenty of concerns about risking their health to get back to work, and regular testing is something players insisted on.

“You need testing at a level sufficient to be confident that you’re going to be on top of anything which might happen,” NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr said. “If that turns out to be daily, and that’s available, that’s OK. That would be good. If it turns out that that’s not quite what we need and we can get by with a little less, that’s OK.”

Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security isn’t quite sure how often athletes should be tested to ensure they are virus-free. He said testing in German soccer will help other leagues determine the right frequency, which also depends on the type of quarantine and exposure risks players will have.

“We do know that people that have increased contact with each other are going to have more opportunity to spread the virus, and hockey is one of the sports where individuals do have a lot of contact with each other,” Adalja said. “I would say that they’re going to have to be more aggressive than other leagues in terms of testing.”

While players vary on their general concern about contracting the virus by resuming the season, many seem to be on board with frequent testing.

“Having it each and every day begins to limit the potential of getting the virus,” Edmonton player representative Darnell Nurse said. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what the professionals who are in this field and tackle these challenges each and every day, if that’s what they believe is the best option, then that’s the way you have to go.”

Teammate Connor McDavid and Toronto captain John Tavares, who are members of the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play committee, deferred to experts on how often players should be tested. McDavid added, “I think you have to get tested in a time like this, and you want to get tested as frequently as you can to catch it right away.”

Daly said one person testing positive for the coronavirus would not necessarily mean another pause for the NHL. Leaguewide testing done daily would allow the isolation of an infected player, coach or staff member before the start of an outbreak.

“If one guy tests positive, I see it as unlikely that other guys don’t test positive, but in assessing everybody I have to believe that they’ll probably find it,” Montreal player rep Paul Byron said. “What would happen if half your team or four or five or six guys test positive at one time?”

League and team officials have stressed they would only use thousands of tests if that number does not endanger the supply for the general public, a concern Adalja broached for all sports. Bettman said medical experts told the NHL that by the time games could resume this summer, 25,000-30,000 would be “a relatively insignificant number.”

Adalja said a league partnering with a national chain for testing could keep it from interfering with the public supply, though it is difficult to predict what availability will be like in late summer. He also said the cost and availability depends on whether the NHL would use more expensive but more reliable PCR tests — the nose swabs — or rapid antigen tests that can have less sensitivity.

Protocols for voluntary workouts and training camps require PCR testing where available, and Daly said the NHL continues to study the potential use of antigen testing.

Part of the decision on which cities host games is the amount of COVID-19 present in the community. Bettman hopes the combination of going to a place with less of it, testing frequently and putting players in a quarantine “bubble” of sorts means it’s less likely for anyone to contract it.

The players putting faith in the league to keep them healthy hope that turns out to be correct.

“Staying on top of everyone is going to be a good challenge for our training staff, and the onus on the players in making sure everyone’s safe,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said. “It’s going to be different. It’s going to be some interesting hurdles but hopefully if we get back on the ice, I’m sure the guys will find a way to jump through them.”

WATCH LIVE: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 vs. Canadiens on NBCSN

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington hosts Montreal in D.C. tonight in what will be the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. All eyes will be on Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin as he continues his quest for 700 career goals.

Ovechkin is now goalless in five straight games after registering a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4. Of the seven members in the 700-goal club, five players took five games or longer to go from 698 to 700 career goals – Jaromir Jagr (5 games), Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner (6 games), and Brett Hull (12 games).

The Capitals have struggled in the midst of Ovechkin’s trek towards 700 goals. For the first time since mid-October, Washington no longer owns at least a share of the Metro Division lead as Pittsburgh now occupies the top spot.

Tuesday afternoon, the Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks for a 2020 second round pick (originally acquired from Colorado) and a conditional 2021 third round pick.

Montreal lost 4-3 at Detroit on Tuesday night after blowing a two-goal third period lead. The Habs led 3-1 entering the third and gave up three unanswered goals to pick up their fifth straight loss. To make matters worse, the Red Wings swept the Habs in the regular season (four games) for the first time in franchise history. Four of Detroit’s league-worst 15 wins this season have come against Montreal.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhilip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Jonathan DrouinNick SuzukiJoel Armia
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiIlya Kovalchuk
Paul ByronNate ThompsonNick Cousins

Ben ChiarotShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Xavier OuelletChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Travis BoydNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon – John Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Michal KempnyRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.

The Buzzer: Crosby sparks Penguins; Aho extends point streak

Pittsburgh Penguins Center Sidney Crosby (87)
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Three Stars

1) Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Alex Ovechkin, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins have dominated the Eastern Conference storylines this season. But Sidney Crosby and the Penguins jumped into first place of the Metropolitan Division after a thorough 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday. Pittsburgh’s captain recorded four points in his third consecutive multi-point game. Crosby has netted seven goals and dished out 16 assists in 13 games since returning from a core muscle surgery that kept him sidelined since mid-November. No. 87 has also tallied 11 points during a five-game point streak. The Penguins have flown under the radar for most of the season but should be considered one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

2) Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets increased their winning streak to three games with a 6-3 victory against the Los Angeles Kings. Wheeler recorded two goals and added an assist as Winnipeg looks to keep pace in the Western Conference wild-card race. Wheeler was rewarded late in the second period for darting toward the back post during an odd-man rush. Mark Scheifele took the puck from Trevor Lewis in the defensive zone then raced up ice to set up the captain. Wheeler’s second goal of the night came late in the final frame when he redirected a shot from Neal Pionk into the back of the net.

3) Anthony Angello, Pittsburgh Penguins

No matter the circumstances, Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan expect every player in any lineup to contribute in a meaningful way. The Penguins have done a fantastic job integrating players from the minor leagues into their NHL lineup in recent years. Anthony Angello didn’t even expect to play Tuesday, but alternate captain Evgeni Malkin was unable to complete warmups and left an opening in the lineup. Angello participated in the pre-game skate and was ready to fill the void. In only his fifth NHL game, the 23-year-old scored his first career goal late in the first period. Sam Lafferty fired a shot from the top of the circles and Angello provided a screen and masterfully redirected the puck past Frederik Andersen. Patric Hornqvist retrieved the milestone puck for the young forward.

Other notable performances

  • Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 10 games with a third-period goal in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 win against the Predators.
  • Jordan Binnington picked up his second shutout of the season as the Blues blanked the Devils for their first win since the Jay Bouwmeester incident.
  • Nikolaj Ehlers had two assists and the eventual game-winning goal in the Jets’ 6-3 win against the Kings.
  • Andreas Athanasiou scored twice as part of a three-goal third period to help the Red Wings snap a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 win against the Canadiens.
  • Artem Anisimov scored twice in the Senators’ 7-4 victory against the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Vladislav Namestnikov scored his fourth shorthanded goal. Ottawa Senators lead the NHL with 13 shorthanded goals this season.
  • Travis Konecny recorded three points as the Flyers gained ground in the Metropolitan Division with a 5-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Highlights of the Night

Auston Matthews hammered this pass from William Nylander to score his 43rd of the season. He took sole possession of the top spot on NHL goal-scoring list.

Sean Couturier whiffed but ends up with credit for the goal after Elvis Merzlikins lost sight of the puck before it trickled through his legs

Paul Byron stole the puck from Athanasiou then Nick Cousins set up Nate Thompson for the easy tap-in goal.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Ottawa Senators 7, Buffalo Sabres 4
Detroit Red Wings 4, Montreal Canadiens 3
St. Louis Blues 3, New Jersey Devils 0
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Nashville Predators 1
Winnipeg Jets 6, Los Angeles Kings 3


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Canadiens say Shea Weber could return Tuesday

Shea Weber
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Maybe his injury isn’t as severe as initially feared. Or maybe it’s the last act of a desperate team trying to do anything it can to salvage its season before it continues to spiral down the drain. Whatever the reason, there appears to be a very real chance that defenseman Shea Weber could return to the Montreal Canadiens’ lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

Coach Claude Julien announced on Monday that Weber — along with injured forward Paul Byron — could be in the lineup on Tuesday.

Keep in mind we are just five days removed from the Canadiens announcing that Weber would be sidelined 4-6 weeks due to a sprained ankle.

Weber added (via Sportsnet’s Eric Engels) on Monday that doctors have told him he can not do any more damage to his injured ankle, and that while he is obviously not 100 percent he still feels good to go.

He has been sidelined since Feb. 4, a stretch that has seen the Canadiens win just two of their past six games to continue to fall out of playoff contention.

They enter the week nine points out of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are eight points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Adding to their current deficit is they have also played more games than every team ahead of them in the standings. In other words: The playoffs are more than a long shot.

When you combine that with Weber’s age, as well as the way injuries have piled up for him over the years it’s a little bit of a surprise to see his timeline accelerated that way it has been. Weber is having an outstanding season and is still an excellent player when healthy, but injuries have already sidelined him for 90 games during his Canadiens’ tenure over the past four years. That’s more than 30 percent of the possible games.

Hockey’s culture loves to glorify the warrior mentality of a player playing through pain for the good of the team. And it is hard to tell a player that they shouldn’t — or can’t — play. But at some point you have to wonder when it is no longer worth the risk. Even if doctors are pretty sure he can’t do anymore damage to this particular injury by playing, you’re still talking about a 34-year-old player (who you still owe a TON of money to over the next several years), with a lengthy injury history, playing on a bad ankle for a team that probably has less than a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs at this point. Aside from legitimate questions as to how impactful he might be given the circumstances, who is to say that playing on a bad ankle couldn’t lead to a different injury? At some point you have to wonder when it’s no longer worth the risk and just let the guy rest and get healthy and realize there is still a bigger picture at play here than a futile attempt to salvage a lost season.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wednesday Night Hockey: How quickly can Habs turn things around?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Canadiens are well on their way to missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2017 and that year they got bounced in the first round. Why are the Habs in this situation and how quickly can they fix this? Let’s take a look.

Montreal got off to a strong enough start this year, but things fell apart once Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron got hurt in mid-November. Once those two went down, the Canadiens proceeded to go on an eight-game winless streak. Joel Armia also missed a stretch of games and Jesperi Kotkaniemi was injured on two different occasions.

Sure, it helped when general manager Marc Bergevin signed Ilya Kovalchuk and traded for Marco Scandella in early January, but the damage had already been done. That’s why the Habs are in a tricky spot. Their team has veterans like Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher on the roster, but they’re not willing to part with future assets for immediate help.

Now that Weber (lower body) is out indefinitely and the team is seven points out of a playoff spot, there isn’t much hope left for this season.

So what do they do?

Bergevin can sell off expiring contracts at the deadline. Kovalchuk, Scandella, Nate Thompson and Nick Couins could all be on the move. All four are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Maybe they hang on to Kovalchuk because he’s been that good and maybe Scandella, who is from Montreal, wants to continue his career at home, but if the right offers come along, those guys could be moved.

Things get way more interesting when you consider whether or not they’d move key players with term remaining on their contracts. For example, Petry and Tatar both have one-year remaining on their deals after this season. Would Bergevin consider moving those guys? When you look at the haul that Minnesota got for Jason Zucker, who has more years remaining on his deal, it might be tempting for Bergevin to make a similar deal.

It all comes down to how close they think they are to being a playoff team as soon as next season. What we know is that Bergevin isn’t interested in trading Weber and Price. If that continues to be the case, they almost have no choice but to go for it because those two aren’t getting any younger.

They tried landing Sebastian Aho with an offer sheet last summer, but that didn’t work. Typically, Montreal isn’t a free-agent destination of choice, so it’ll be difficult to add quality players that way. What it comes down to is whether or not they can land a high-end talent via trade. And would they be willing to part with certain young assets to make that happen before Price and Weber are no longer cornerstone players?

Assuming Bergevin gets to keep his job, this will be a massive period for him. Not only does he have to trade/acquire the right players, he has to make sure he’s taking the right approach with this team.

John Forslund will call the matchup alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury. Liam McHugh hosts the night’s studio coverage alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp, and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

With Alex Ovechkin just two goals shy of reaching 700 goals for his NHL career, NBC Sports has flexed into its second Capitals game this week, adding Washington’s game against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo, on Thursday night.

Thursday night’s coverage of Capitals-Avalanche will be the second half of an NHL doubleheader on NBCSN, immediately following originally-scheduled coverage of Flyers-Panthers, which begins at 7 p.m. ET. Pre-game coverage at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.