After shutting down for a week, the NHL resumes play Tuesday with three games on the schedule amid hopes that its extended holiday break caused by a rash of positive coronavirus test results will set the stage for the league to complete an already upended season.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning won’t have reigning playoff MVP goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, five other players and coach Jon Cooper for their game against Montreal. Coach Peter DeBoer is out for the Vegas Golden Knights’ game at the Kings.
Montreal will also be without several players for the start of a three-game U.S. road trip; back home, Quebec has banned fans and all eyes are on virus restrictions in Canada that could further upend the season for a league with seven teams based north of the border.
And there are more disquieting signs.
The league on Monday postponed three more games slated for later this week to bring the total to 70 this season. Chicago’s game at Winnipeg scheduled for Wednesday and a home-and-home series Wednesday and Friday between Dallas and Colorado are the latest to be moved because of coronavirus concerns.
The Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild is still scheduled to be played in front of a crowd of almost 40,000 at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday night in keeping with the league’s New Year’s Day tradition.
“We’re just happy to be playing hockey,” Blues defenseman Justin Faulk said. “I think we should be playing.”
In an effort to do just that, the league brought back “taxi squads,” a feature from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Each team will be able to keep up to six players on the taxi squad and can make more emergency recalls from the minors to make sure there are 18 skaters and two goaltenders available for each game.
“It’s what needed to happen,” Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “With obviously what’s going on, you’re going to have a lot of these issues, so that’s one way to take care of it, have enough players around that you can keep playing. I think at the end of the day that’s what we’re trying to do: have a system in place that you can get guys into the lineup quickly.”
The league shut down for the annual Christmas break two days earlier than usual and extended it through Monday given the coronavirus cases and spread of the Delta and Omicron variants.