As the NHL's return inches closer, the Capitals' Todd Reirden is thinking ahead

Only four of Capitals Coach Todd Reirden's players are skating at the team practice facility. Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post.

With training camp tentatively scheduled to begin in less than a month, the Washington Capitals are gradually preparing to return to game action in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As for who their starting goaltender will be when the competition resumes, Coach Todd Reirden has a pretty good idea.

"I think going into it it's Braden Holtby's job to lose, and I feel confident in him," Reirden said Monday on a conference call with reporters. "I felt confident with where things were going right before the pause in terms of how his game was coming around, and I think he'll get the first crack at it."

Holtby, a pending free agent, posted a 25-14-6 record with an .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals against average in the regular season. Ilya Samsonov had a standout rookie year as his backup, going 16-6-2 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against average. Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek should also be in the mix as "black aces" - minor leaguers on hand if the Capitals need them.

But that decision remains weeks away. Only four players - Holtby, defenseman John Carlson and centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller - are in the Washington area and have been able to participate in small-group workouts, which started late last week, at the team's practice facility in Arlington, Virginia. The rest of the team, scattered across the continent and overseas, is expected to return to the area in the next few weeks. Training camp is slated to begin July 10, if safety conditions connected to the novel coronavirus pandemic allow.

All of the Capitals' players have been able to get on the ice in some fashion, Reirden said. Captain Alex Ovechkin has been skating in a larger group in South Florida with several of his Russian countrymen, including New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov. Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler has been posting videos of his return to the ice in his home country of Switzerland.Reirden, who has been in regular contact with his players since the season was halted in mid-March, said he won't be able to fully evaluate them until they return, but he is confident they will do their best to knock off the rust and stay healthy.


"They are getting excited about the opportunity but also [staying] cautiously optimistic, making sure safety is first," Reirden said. "Safety is definitely first for our staff and players."

Injuries and setbacks are only one issue that teams will tackle during the NHL's return-to-play plan. Many players have expressed concerns about being apart from their families for an extended period, and others have underlying health conditions that put them more at risk of contracting the virus. For the Capitals, though, Reirden said he expects all of his players to return for the resumption of play.

Reirden's wife, Shelby, and son, Travis, will soon travel to Valparaiso, Indiana, for safety reasons ahead of training camp. Travis has common variable immunodeficiency, a disorder that leaves his body unable to defend against bacteria and viruses; Shelby's family and friends and "a great doctor" will be on hand in Valparaiso to provide support, the coach said.

With logistical questions remaining about the resumption of play at two to-be-determined hub cities, Reirden said he and his staff are trying to prepare the players for as much as possible. Starting Thursday, goaltending coach Scott Murray and assistant Blaine Forsythe will be allowed on the ice with players in small-group workouts. As the head coach, Reirden is still not even allowed in the building.

That has forced him to be in constant communication with staff and players as they prepare to face the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers in the round-robin portion of the playoffs. Reirden said the team is not looking to change much; instead, it will have to work on getting the basics back up to par after such a long break.

"We're going to do everything we can to prepare our players to be ready," Reirden said. " . .. I know that our players are excited about having that opportunity and feel confident in our group. . . . I feel great about that situation with us having a veteran team."

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