Alex Pietrangelo, coach Peter DeBoer and two assistants were absent Wednesday when the Vegas Golden Knights practiced for the first time since their facilities were closed Jan. 27 under the NHL COVID-19 protocol.
It’s unclear whether the defenseman and the coaches will be available when the Golden Knights are scheduled to return to play against the Los Angeles Kings at T-Mobile Arena on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, ATTSN-RM, KCOP-13, NHL.TV).
“There’s a lot of balls in the air right now,” assistant Steve Spott said. “The challenge for us is to make sure that we are following the protocols that are in place. If all goes well, then hopefully we’ll be back in business, but those are issues that are at the League level and at our management level.”
Spott, goaltending coach Mike Rosati and director of hockey operations Misha Donskov were on the ice for practice Wednesday, while DeBoer and assistants Ryan Craig and Ryan McGill were not.
Pietrangelo, a defenseman, has been unavailable since Thursday; he has scored four points (one goal, three assists) in seven games and leads the Golden Knights in time on ice per game (25:37).
The NHL is releasing the names of players unavailable under the COVID-19 protocol but not coaches.
“It’s been difficult,” said forward Mark Stone, who is Golden Knights captain. “Obviously, you never want to miss a week. But we’ve done stuff like this in the past. We’ve had our bye weeks. We’ve had our all-star breaks and then come back and had a couple practices and had to play. So, it’s not completely out of the ordinary for us, so we’ll be ready to go.”
General manager Kelly McCrimmon coached the Golden Knights, assisted by the staff of Henderson of the American Hockey League, in a 5-4 shootout loss at home against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 26 after the Vegas staff could not coach under the protocol. McCrimmon said after the game that a coach had tested positive.
The Vegas facilities were closed the next day. The Golden Knights were supposed to play the Blues at T-Mobile Arena again the following day, but the NHL announced the game was postponed and the facilities would remain closed after a player and another member of the staff entered the protocol. Pietrangelo then was listed was unavailable.
The NHL announced Friday that Vegas games against the San Jose Sharks scheduled for Monday and Wednesday were postponed; the facilities would remain closed; and four members of the Golden Knights, including three coaches, were being isolated.
Stone said the players stayed in touch and in shape from afar.
“We talked throughout the seven days, more just joking around with each other,” Stone said. “That’s what you kind of miss when you don’t play, just that camaraderie of coming to the rink and being together. So, we’ve kind of tried to do that through text.
“I think guys did a good job of finding ways to do stuff, whether that was in their garage as a gym … Some guys have saunas. Anything you can do to try to get that edge.”
Spott said the coaches remained in communication as well.
“We talk multiple times daily, so we’re all on the same page,” Spott said. “Whoever has the whistle in his mouth for that particular morning running practice can get the job done.”
Spott said the Golden Knights went over the details of their 5-on-5 game and conducted drills to get back up to game speed Wednesday, focusing on spatial awareness and reintroducing physical contact.
“With that extended time off, we’ve got to get them back [in game shape], but at the same time, making sure we’re not pushing them to the point where they could pull a muscle or hurt themselves,” Spott said.
What if the Golden Knights don’t have their full coaching staff against the Kings?
“I mean, we played with no coaches [against the Blues], and we played great,” Stone said. “It’s a resilient group. Obviously, we want to get our coaches back. Not sure when that’s going to happen.”
Stone sounded unconcerned about playing a busy schedule the rest of the season as well. The postponed games have been shoehorned in; the Golden Knights will play the Blues at T-Mobile Arena on March 22, the Sharks at SAP Center on Feb. 13 and 25.
“It’s challenging, but the way I look at it is, on the road, I’d rather be playing games,” Stone said. “I don’t really want to be sitting in my hotel room with nothing to do. So for us, I don’t mind it.
“We’re going to condense more road games together. We’re going to play a lot of hockey, keep our mind away from a lot of things. It’s going to be tougher obviously physically, but mentally, I think it’s going to help us.”