The National Hockey League planned to return from its holiday/COVID break Monday with nearly every team in the league in action, but instead Commissioner Gary Bettman postponed the restart one additional day to Tuesday. While Blue Jackets–Blackhawks was postponed Tuesday, the other three games will be played as of this writing and the NHL is doing everything in its power to ensure the New Year’s Day Winter Classic between the St. Louis and Minnesota Wild from Target Field will be a go. The holiday break began Dec. 22. Here are the best odds in the NHL.
It will be interesting to see Tuesday’s Montreal at Tampa Bay game because the Canadiens have nine players on the COVID list and the Lightning placed their top two goaltenders, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott, on the list Sunday. The team is 100 percent vaccinated. Captain Steven Stamkos previously indicated that the Lightning had received booster shots.
Forty-two new players throughout the league entered the protocol Sunday, and only one team, the Wild, did not have someone in the protocol. Tampa Bay is also without head coach Jon Cooper.
“We’re living in crazy times right now,” forward Corey Perry said. “You never know what’s going to happen, and you hope for the best. … As much as you don’t want to say it, it’s probably easier now. You just roll with the punches; you know things are going to happen.”
No other netminder has made an appearance for the Lightning this season. Amir Miftakhov, Hugo Alnefelt and Maxime Lagace have all played for Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch, posting .907, .864 and .861 save percentages, respectively.
Prior to Monday’s practice, the Canadiens announced that goaltender Jake Allen as well as defensemen Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson and Chris Wideman were added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. As a result, Cayden Primeau and Corey Schueneman were called up from the Laval Rocket. The NHL announced the return of taxi squads Sunday night which allows teams to carry up to six extra players if needed due to COVID-19.
The NHL has postponed 67 games this season. That led to the decision to not participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The NHL was planning to pause the season from Feb. 6-22 to allow players to participate, but that block now will be used to reschedule some of the postponed games.
As for the Winter Classic, the Blues and Wild will play outdoors at the home of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins. NHL deputy commissioner recently spoke to Wild general manager Bill Guerin and Blues general manager Doug Armstrong to gauge their preparations for the game amid the spike in COVID-19 cases around the NHL and North America.
“Knock on wood … full speed ahead,” Daly said. “We have a full team on the ground there in Minnesota. Everybody is excited. I know the two teams are very excited for it. We’re relatively healthy when it comes to COVID vis a vis those two teams. I obviously hope it stays that way. But I see nothing at this point that gets in the way of us having a fantastic Winter Classic.”
Minnesota already has ruled out captain Jared Spurgeon and top center Joel Eriksson Ek out for the Winter Classic with lower-body and upper-body injuries, respectively. Spurgeon has been dealing with a lower-body injury since late-November. Eriksson Ek, meanwhile, was injured during Minnesota’s final game before the extended holiday pause against the Stars. When the Wild play Jan. 1, they’ll have gone without a game in 12 consecutive days and without a win in 23.
On Sunday, the Blues added four players to protocol— Robert Bortuzzo, Dakota Joshua, James Neal and Ivan Barbashev. The latter has been excellent offensively of late with seven goals and 15 points in the past 12 games. If their protocol lasts the usual 10 days, their ability to play in the Winter Classic is in jeopardy. However, Oskar Sundqvist, also in COVID-19 protocol retroactive to Dec. 18, should be cleared.
It will be the first time in the Winter Classic for the Wild – they were to host it last season but that was called off due to COVID. The Blues hosted the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day 2017 and beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1.
The puck drop for the game Saturday is 7 p.m. ET on TNT. It’s the first meeting of the season between the Blues and Wild.
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