Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The Golden Knights are scheduled to return to game action Friday against the visiting Kings — of course, barring any more COVID-19 setbacks.
But whether the personnel returning includes Vegas’ highest-paid defenseman or its coaching staff is still unknown. Following a week off the ice due to COVID-related postponements, the Golden Knights returned to practice on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of balls in the air right now,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “The challenge for us is that we are following all the protocols that are in place. If all goes well then hopefully we’ll be back in business.”
Spott ran practice because head coach Pete DeBoer and assistants Ryan Craig and Ryan McGill are still in the virus protocols and were not able to be on the ice. Also missing was defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the only named player on the league’s “COVID Protocol Related Absences” list, though a taxi squad player was also in protocols.
That left Spott, goalie coach Mike Rosati and director of hockey operations Misha Donskov in charge of the team’s first on-ice workout since the Jan. 26 game against the Blues. In that game, all of the coaches — including Spott — were in isolation after one of the coaches tested positive.
Spott said he did not know if DeBoer will be behind the bench for Friday’s game.
With the coaching staff was unavailable last week, general manager Kelly McCrimmon coached the game with help from assistants with the Henderson Silver Knights, the franchise’s AHL affiliate. The Silver Knights coaches returned to their duties with the minor league squad and McCrimmon was not on the ice at practice Wednesday.
“There’s been a level of frustration, but we understand the cards we’ve been dealt,” Spott said. “We have a number of scenarios in play right now, but as I said no matter what I know our team is looking forward to playing Friday night.”
As for Pietrangelo, the length of his stay on the league’s list depends on what put him there in the first place. The NHL and players association agreed at the beginning of the year to release the names of players who would be unavailable to play, but not the reasons. Players can be placed on the list for a variety of reasons, ranging from a positive test to travel-related quarantine.
We don’t know why Pietrangelo was placed on the list. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was experiencing mild symptoms, and if he tested positive he could miss significant time. If he tested negative, he could return soon after his symptoms abated.
The Golden Knights said they are unsure when Pietrangelo will return, but considering his absence from practice Wednesday, he can be considered doubtful from Friday’s game against the Kings.
Spott said that if Pietrangelo is available “obviously” he’ll be in the lineup, but that much is unknown. Vegas will also be without defenseman Brayden McNabb, who was placed on injured reserve this week with a lower-body injury, leaving the team absent both members of its top pair.
Everyone else was accounted for. The forward group was more or less the same, and both goalies were on the ice.
The defense was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle beyond the usual pairing of Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez: Zach Whitecloud was with Nicolas Hague, and Nick Holden was with Dylan Coghlan. Hague has played four games this year, Holden has not appeared in a game yet, and Coghlan has not made his NHL debut.
Skating as extras were forward Keegan Kolesar and 19-year-old defenseman Kaedan Korczak, who played one preseason game with the Silver Knights and made his first in-season appearance at City National Arena with Vegas.
“It was good to get my feet wet on the first day, and I felt pretty good out there,” Korczak said. “Hopefully I stick here, but if not, get better every day and try to end up here by the end of the year.”
Regardless of who is there and who’s not, the Golden Knights are eager to resume their season. Forward Mark Stone compared the weeklong break to last season’s bye week and All-Star break, where Vegas had nine days off between games.
That will be the time off between last Tuesday’s game and Friday’s. It starts a sprint to the rest of the season, where after the rescheduled games the Golden Knights will play 49 games in 96 days.
“It’s challenging, but the way I look at it, on the road I’d rather be playing games,” Stone said. “I don’t mind it. We’re going to condense more road games together, we’re going to be playing a lot of hockey, keeping our mind away from a lot of things. It’s going to be tough obviously, physically, but mentally I think it’s going to help us.”