Red Wings return to Washington, where pandemic paused the NHL

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Washington, D.C. — On March 12, 2020, the NHL paused the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the Red Wings traveled Wednesday to Capital One Arena to face the Washington Capitals, the site they were on that difficult day, emotions returned.

Red Wings forward Robby Fabbri is glad to be back on the road.

"We kind of got news the night before that we weren't sure what was going to happen," forward Robby Fabbri said. "When we got the news (of the NHL pausing), I feel like no one thought it would lead to what it led to. Maybe a couple of weeks off and we'd get back at it. 

"But it was more serious than that."

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Coach Jeff Blashill took the familiar walk from the hotel to the arena Wednesday and passed the restaurant where in 2020 he got news of the NBA's COVID issues.

"The same place we saw the NBA coverage ... and the place was closed, it was boarded up," Blashill said. "So it kind of shows what we've been through over the last year and half."

Blashill remembers not knowing where the season was headed.

"I remember being pretty sure we weren't going to play, but there was no official word," he said. "Then there was an official word we weren't going to skate and just the unknown (of it all). I had conversations with (general manager) Steve Yzerman at that point and potentially flying to Tampa, that was our next opponent.

"And to think about that now, there was no chance we were going to play another game after."

The NHL had a shortened 2020-21 season beginning in January with severe restrictions upon staff and players. Flashing forward, the Wings appear to be in a much better place.

The team was going through a historically bad season when the pandemic shut things down. As they returned to Washington on Wednesday, with rookies Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond igniting things, the focus is on the future.

"(It was) as hard a year as I've been through professionally, and we were in a spot where we look back at it now, and think it was kind of rock bottom," Blashill said. "(But) organizationally we started to trend in the right direction last year. We were better, and this year we have an opportunity to be better.

Fabbri is appreciative of the return to som sense of normalcy.

"We have more freedom on the road (compared to last season)," he said. "We can go out to dinners and get out of the hotel and do things, which is nice. But you have to do your part to make sure you're following the rules in different cities and do your part to keep yourself safe."

Mantha reunion

Fabbri, Dylan Larkin and Michael Rasmussen had dinner Tuesday night with former teammate Anthony Mantha, now a Capital.

Mantha was dealt at the April trade deadline for Jakub Vrana (currently out after shoulder surgery) and draft picks.

Mantha had a good relationship with many of the Wings. Now they are opponents.

"It'll be different for sure, first one against him," Fabbri said. "But it was nice to have some dinner and be able to do stuff on the road again, to see him. 

"It'll definitely be fun there, will be some laughs for sure."

Ice chips

Defenseman Filip Hronek was expected to return to the Wings' lineup after being a healthy scratch the last two games.

"When Fil plays at his best, he's doing a real good job of moving the puck. He manages it well, takes what's given and passes it to people when they're open," Blashill said. "He's always been and has been all year, highly competitive. His decision making defensively is real good. He can be a real good all-around defenseman who can contribute on the power play and penalty kill."

... The Washington power play consistently ranks among the most dangerous. Opponents know the puck is likely going to be funneled to forward Alex Ovechkin, who is inching closer to being the all-time NHL goal-scoring leader.

What makes the Capitals' power play so successful?

"They have really good pieces, and that's not to discredit from a plan or anything like that. But they have very good players that excel at the positions they're at," Blashill said. "They have a lot of good pieces and everybody knows what they're doing.  But so do they and they have a good plan and they maximize their pieces."

Twitter: @tkulfan