The NHL season is entering its fourth week, and one of the tougher opponents has been COVID-19.
The league has had to postpone 26 games so far because of COVID-19 protocols, affecting every division except the all-Canada North. Eleven games have yet to be rescheduled. Seventeen of 24 U.S.-based teams have been affected.
The practice facilities for the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche are closed, and the Sabres announced Thursday that head coach Ralph Krueger had tested positive and was entering protocol.
Thursday, the league took additional steps to try to curb the rise. Glass was removed from behind player benches to improve air flow, teams were told to create more spacing in the dressing rooms, and coaches and players are barred from the arena until 1 hour, 45 minutes before a game.
Bench area has a new look with there being no glass, as per the NHL’s COVID protocols. pic.twitter.com/9GL6vQPo6s
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"We are mindful of the fact that we might be seeing a more aggressive transmission of the virus and will continue to make adjustments to our protocols as we consult on a daily basis with, and adhere to, the recommendations of our medical advisors,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
In the evening, the league postponed Avalanche games through Feb. 11.
Where things stand around the league:
New Jersey Devils: Eight days ago, goalie Mackenzie Blackwood was the lone Devils player on the COVID-19 protocol list, which can mean, among other reasons, an initial positive test, someone showing symptoms, quarantining because of a trade or possible exposure to someone who tested positive. Wednesday, that number had swelled to 17, and those players are unavailable to play or practice until cleared. It fell to 16 Thursday with goalie Aaron Dell cleared. The Devils have had three games postponed through Monday.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres played the Devils twice last weekend, and four New Jersey players from the second game were added to the list Monday. Sabres players Taylor Hall and Rasmus Ristolainen went on the list the following day, two more were added Wednesday and one Thursday. Four games have been postponed through Tuesday.
The Sabres and Devils, who played last weekend, are among teams whose seasons are on hold. (Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig, USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota Wild: Five players — Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Johansson and Jared Spurgeon — joined Marcus Foligno on the list Wednesday. As a result, the league announced Wednesday night that Minnesota's next four games are postponed. Nico Sturm was added to the list Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Wild said last weekend that first-round pick Marco Rossi, 19, has returned to his native Austria to "rest with his family" as he deals with complications from COVID-19. He tested positive in November, recovered and played in the world junior championships but the complications were discovered during his physical with the Wild.
“Like many, I was originally shocked and very disappointed, yet at this time I am very optimistic that my health is and will be good to return to train/play. One thing I know is that I come back stronger than ever!!🙏🏻”.
"He’s limited on what he can do right now, but it’s certainly looking promising for his future,” his agent, Serge Payer, told The Athletic.
Colorado Avalanche: Colorado had played the Wild on Tuesday night. Tyson Jost went on the list Wednesday, followed by captain Gabriel Landeskog on Thursday. The Avalanche's next game, against the Wild, was already off, and now two-game sets against the St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes are, too.
The league said the decision to postpone was made because the Colorado Department of Health "determined that more caution was warranted while the parties are analyzing test results in the coming days."
The league shuffled the schedule by moving up a pair of Arizona at St. Louis games from late March to Saturday and Monday.
Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes: Both teams are playing again after each had four games postponed. The Stars had 17 players test positive in training camp, and the Hurricanes had six on the protocol list at one point. Just one Stars player is on the list, and no one from Carolina.
Washington Capitals: The team played four games without Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov, and the team was fined $100,000 because those four had gathered in a hotel room without face coverings. Kuznetsov and Samsonov remain out.
Vegas Golden Knights: Their coaching staff had to sit out an overtime loss to the Blues, and general manager Kelly McCrimmon went behind the bench. Their next three games were postponed and their practice facility didn't reopen until Wednesday.
“It’s obviously been a challenge, especially this time of year," Vegas assistant coach Steve Spott told reporters. "We want to be on the ice, we want to be practicing and obviously, playing. So there’s been a level of frustration, but we understand the cards that we've been dealt."
Coach Peter DeBoer wasn't at Wednesday's or Thursday's practice, and neither was defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the lone player on the protocol list. It's unknown whether the full coaching staff will be available for Friday's game against the Los Angeles Kings.
“It’s a new world that we’re dealing with right now at a lot of different levels," Spott said. "As coaches in the National Hockey League, we just have to make sure we’re prepared for the unexpected.”
Captain Mark Stone noted that even though the circumstances are different, teams have been away from the rink this long during a bye week or the All-Star break.
"It's not completely out of the ordinary, so we'll be ready to go Friday," he said.
Others across the league: According to the league's COVID-19 protocol list from Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks (three), Los Angeles Kings (two), Pittsburgh Penguins (one) and Winnipeg Jets (one) all have players unavailable to play.
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