The Vancouver Canucks are scheduled to return to competition for the first time since March 24 when they face the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs twice in three days, starting Sunday evening.
The Canucks, who have been unable to play because of a coronavirus outbreak on the team, had been scheduled to return to action on Friday night against the Edmonton Oilers. But that game was postponed on Thursday by the NHL with input from the NHL Players’ Association and medical staff from teams.
Twenty-two Canucks players and four staff members tested positive, but by Wednesday the number of players on the COVID-19 list had dropped to seven.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning said it became clear how hard the coronavirus had hit once players resumed skating this week in limited numbers.
The Canucks had their first practice back as a team Thursday. It was closed to the media.
“We’re dealing with this variant, it’s new,” Benning said, alluding to the P.1 coronavirus variant, which is reportedly twice as transmissible to earlier strains. The Canucks are believed to be the first team to deal with the P.1 variant.
“As we go through the different protocols, from going through the quarantines and doing the EKGs and the blood tests and getting guys on the ice, and how they’re feeling, our doctors have been very cautious,” Benning said. “And we’ve still got some guys that aren’t feeling great.
“These are world-class athletes; they’re feeling OK until they put their equipment on and they have to skate. … Everyone’s working to do what’s right for the players, first and foremost, and for their families.”
Discussions were continuing about the Canucks’ remaining schedule, which had them playing 19 games in 31 days when the game against Edmonton was included.
The Canucks were on a three-game losing streak before the outbreak.
The Maple Leafs are also on a three-game losing streak after losing 5-2 to the visiting Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL with 32 goals, did not play on Thursday, dealing with with a hand/wrist injury.
“It’s similar but not the same,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Thursday. “He is day-to-day. We’re not expecting it to be something that’s going to hold him out for long.”
William Nylander also is expected to return soon after being out because of COVID-19 protocols.
The Maple Leafs hold first place in the North Division, but their lead has dwindled to three points over the Jets with 12 games remaining.
The Maple Leafs scored first on Thursday, but the Jets responded with three goals in three minutes to take a 3-1 lead at the first intermission. Jack Campbell allowed three goals on six shots before being replaced by David Rittich in the 14th minute.
The Maple Leafs power play continued to be a problem, failing to convert a 5-on-3 advantage in the first period. It was 0-for-4 on the game and scoreless in the past 12 power-play chances.
“The guys who are out there right now are squeezing it, overthinking it. But that’s where we’re at and what we’ve done to ourselves, so we’ve got to find our way out of it,” Keefe said. “I think there were some positive signs with it (Thursday), but obviously it had great opportunities … but failed to get it done.”
–Field Level Media