Avalanche practice, to return to play following COVID-19 postponements

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Jared Bednar expressed concern Thursday about the Colorado Avalanche returning to play after an 11-day pause to their season.

The Avalanche, who last played Feb. 2, practiced for the first time in 10 days. They went into quarantine due to the NHL COVID-19 protocol following a 2-1 win against the Minnesota Wild and return Sunday with the first of two games at the Vegas Golden Knights.

“[I’ve] got a lot of concern, especially after our practice today,” the Avalanche coach said. “The guys don’t have their legs underneath them. We’ll just see how the next couple days go. We’ll put our best foot forward, but do I have concerns, absolutely.”

Colorado (7-3-1) was on a 4-0-1 streak before having five games postponed: one against Minnesota, two against the St. Louis Blues, and two against the Arizona Coyotes.

“Taking time off and going to play Vegas, which is a really good team that’s been firing on all cylinders,” Bednar said. “They’re ready to go and waiting on us. We’ll do our best to go in there and win some hockey games.”

Bednar said the Avalanche struggled at practice at Ball Arena.

“The work ethic was fine, but there was lots of rust, it was slow, it wasn’t great, but that’s what you’d expect to see with that much time off,” he said. “We have some practice time here, so hopefully our legs start to come around and we start to improve here real quickly over a short period of time.

“It’s not the start of the year where you’re coming out of [the] All-Star break or bye week like years past where the other teams are in the same boat. We’ve been sitting and Vegas has been playing; they’ll be sharp and hungry and we’re just trying to get moving again.”

The Golden Knights (8-1-1) have won three in a row after not playing for nine days from Jan. 27-Feb. 4 due to the protocol. Vegas forward Tomas Nosek was pulled during a 5-4 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19. They were unable to practice Wednesday before playing the Ducks again Thursday.

Colorado forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Jost, and defenseman Samuel Girard are on the protocol list and won’t travel to Vegas.

Forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and defenseman Devon Toews practiced Thursday. MacKinnon, who was tied for third in the NHL with 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) on Feb. 2, missed one game with a lower-body injury. Toews (lower body) and Bellemare (lower body) each missed three games.

“All three of those guys were on the ice and they looked pretty good, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings,” Bednar said. “I would say there’s a possibility that some or all of them play on Sunday.”

Goalie Philipp Grubauer said he skated at a local park, hiked, and worked out at home during the break. He rode a Peloton bike and used computer programs to simulate game action.

“I’m trying to get some reaction and get your brain going and your eyesight going because hand-eye coordination for a goalie is the biggest thing you have to be good at, so I tried to train that,” he said. “We’ve got a couple days to go until the first game. Today was a good step, and we have to make sure we execute at practice tomorrow and battle hard and get ready for the game.”

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