tweet this Content by Twitter, Facebook; Reddit or other Networks, thanks!
Two days from playing in a nationally televised outdoor game on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, the Avalanche on Thursday had interesting lineup options as a handful of players rejoined the team from the injured or COVID protocol lists.
Top-line winger Gabe Landeskog is an option Saturday against the Vegas Golden Knights, although the Avs’ captain hasn’t played since Feb. 2 and was in a 14-day quarantine that ended Wednesday. Veteran forward Matt Calvert, who hasn’t played since Jan. 24 because of what is believed to be a head injury, is also cleared to play — along with top-pair defenseman Cale Makar (missed last two games to upper-body injury) and forwards Tyson Jost and Kiefer Sherwood (both COVID protocol with Landeskog).
Among those five players, only Makar made the trip to Las Vegas for the first two games of a four-game “series” against the Knights. Makar practiced with Ryan Graves on the first pairing Thursday.
Everyone wants to suit up Saturday in the debut of Colorado’s reverse-retro uniforms, but Avs coach Jared Bednar needs to make sure his 20-man lineup has what it takes to take down the Knights in the third of four consecutive meetings between the West Division giants.
Both teams were scheduled to travel to Lake Tahoe on Thursday and have their first and only practice on the temporary rink on the 18th fairway of Edgewood Golf Course on Friday.
“Even though all those guys are like key components to our team they’ve been out for a significant amount of time,” Bednar said of Landeskog, Calvert and Jost in particular. “I know it’s a game everyone wants to play in but whether it’s guys who have been playing for us recently, evaluating their play, and guys coming back, sort of evaluating what they might be able to bring to us — whether it’s in the same role that they had when they left or somewhat of a diminished role because of a lack of practice time and ice time — we’ll make those decisions over the next couple days.”
Landeskog skated in a diminished role at Thursday’s practice. Normally the first-line left wing with center Nathan MacKinnon, Landeskog slid to the third line with center J.T. Compher. Calvert and Jost were on the fourth line centered by P.E. Bellemare with a handful of additional forwards including Valeri Nichushkin, Sheldon Dries, Jayson Megna and Sherwood.
Dries and Megna stepped in admirably in the first two games against Vegas.
Calvert, who also missed time because of quarantine after traveling to see specialists for his ailment, has been skating all week and appears to be a shoo-in to play in Colorado’s third career outdoor game.
“I was fortunate enough to see some great doctors and some specialists. Hopefully got the problem figured out,” Calvert said. “I’ve skated for about five or six days when the boys were on the road and I’m feeling great. I’m ready to come back and play my game. Not a better stage to come back on than to go to Lake Tahoe to play an outdoor game.”
The Avs will still be without defensemen Sam Girard and Erik Johnson and goalie Pavel Francouz on Saturday. Bednar said Girard, who was on COVID protocol, passed his cardiac test Wednesday and will resume on-ice workouts this weekend. Johnson and Francouz are out long-term.
Colorado on Saturday begins a stretch of five games in eight games to complete the month. They have 17 scheduled games in 31 days of March. The already condensed 56-game regular season is now tighter because the Avs had to reschedule five games postponed because of COVID.
“The slowest part of our season has already happened, which is hard to believe but that’s the truth of it — especially with the week off for COVID reasons. It’s just the nature of the business now,” Bednar said. “With the condensed schedule, the amount of injuries that we’ve had, guys missing because of COVID, you’re taxing other guys in games and you want to make sure that they’re rested. They have to be rested to be able to stay healthy, so we don’t pile up on the injuries. It’s difficult but nothing any of the other teams in the league are facing.”