It isn’t unheard of for NHL teams to bench players due to internal disciplinary reasons and this isn’t even the first publicized case of the season, but when the Washington Capitals took the ice on Monday night without two of their biggest names, people took notice. The Washington Post’s Samantha Pell was the first to report that starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov and top-six forward Evgeny Kuznetsov would not be in the lineup against the New York Rangers due to a disciplinary decision made by the coaching staff. As it turns out, the pair were late to a team function – a mistake of minutes that cost them an entire game.
This isn’t the first time that Samsonov and Kuznetsov have been at the center of an issue in Washington this season either. The duo were among the group that broke COVID protocol earlier this season, costing the team a $100K fine. It could be that this earlier incidence of rule-breaking came into play with the roster decision tonight, with the team choosing not to go easy on the pair.
The decision to bench Samsonov and Kuznetsov was surely not an easy one as well. While the Capitals have clinched a playoff berth already, the team has lost ground in the East Division standings of late. Washington has slipped behind the Pittsburgh Penguins by two points for the division lead, albeit with a game in hand, but perhaps more concerning are the Boston Bruins just three points behind with a game on the Caps. Washington is also facing the most competitive of the North’s non-playoff teams in the Rangers. Without Samsonov, who has only allowed two goals per game in his last five starts, and Kuznetsov’s .71 points per game, the Capitals were risking missing out on precious points on Monday night in order to reach the two key players a lesson in accountability.