The St. Louis Blues will try to pick up where their left off before their pandemic pause when they host the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
The Blues suffered just three regulation losses in 14 games before shutting down due to the NHL-wide COVID-19 outbreak. They went 8-3-3 during that span despite relying heavily on players called up from the AHL.
They haven’t played since Dec. 19, so their post-holiday practices have felt like training camp.
“I think it’s just kind of getting used to the energy of the game again,” Blues defenseman Justin Faulk said. “You can’t replicate it in practice; it’s just not possible.
“I’ve said it when I was out with COVID, many teams have eight-day All-Star breaks, bye weeks, so going through this, it’s a couple of days longer but we’re probably practicing a little bit more than you would during those times. So I think guys will be ready.”
The Oilers have not played since Dec. 18. They entered the pause having won their last two games after suffering a six-game losing streak.
Edmonton regained key forward Zach Hyman from COVID protocols along with forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Devin Shore and Ryan McLeod, defenseman Cody Ceci and coach Dave Tippett. Goaltender Mike Smith has worked his way back from a persistent leg injury.
“We’ve had guys on our team with it but guys are coming back and hopefully that’s a sign that we’re trying to put it behind us,” Hyman said. “But anybody who gets it can have symptoms. It’s never a good thing. You wish them well. Hopefully we can dodge this for the rest of the season.”
Oilers’ cornerstone defenseman Darnell Nurse remains in protocols along with defensemen Duncan Keith and William Lagesson and forwards Jesse Puljujarvi, Zack Kassian.
So like the Blues, the Oilers have had to test their depth.
“Usually there’s an injury bug and you’re on the IR,” Hyman said. “But this is different. From a management perspective, it’s probably nice to see the young players, see your depth and play with more guys because, as you move through the season, you’re going to need an expanded playoff roster.”
The Blues have red-hot forward Ivan Barbashev currently in the protocols along with Robert Bortuzzo, Dakota Joshua and James Neal.
St. Louis is closer to full strength with forwards Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas back to active duty along with defenseman Jake Walman. Forwards Brayden Schenn and Oskar Sundqvist are progressing, but not expected to play against the Oilers.
Jordan Binnington is expected to make his second start in goal after recovering from COVID-19, with Charlie Lindgren backing him up due to Ville Husso still sidelined with a lower-body injury.
“We’ve been dealing with a bunch of new guys in and out throughout the whole year, so it is kind of the new normal and we’re just happy to be playing hockey,” Faulk said. “I don’t want to be sitting at home doing nothing during this time. I think we should be playing. It’s good to be out there.”
–Field Level Media