TAMPA, FL. – If indeed the schedule holds up, which certainly cannot be taken for granted given the many virus-related cancellations that have taken place in the NHL the past couple of weeks, the Lightning will complete the 2021 portion of this season’s schedule in the friendly confines of Amalie Arena.
The team’s three-game road trip heading into what would have been the league’s three-day holiday break, became a one-game trip to Vegas last Monday night, a 4-3 win in which the Lightning roared back from a 3-1 second-period hole. The game was sandwiched between postponements at Colorado and at Arizona.
The Lightning are scheduled to host the Canadiens on Tuesday night and say goodbye to 2021 against the Rangers on Friday night.
“Just like the Vegas game, we have to prepare like we are going to play,” said Steven Stamkos, who leads the team with 35 points, good for sixth in the league, on Monday. “Obviously, a lot of things can change. It’s unfortunate with what is going on around the league with a lot of teams having to deal with Covid issues right now, including ourselves. I don’t think a lot is going to change here the next couple of weeks, so teams are going to have to adjust on the fly and we have to do the same.”
On Monday, forward Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Andrej Sustr entered the team’s Covid protocol. That was announced 24 hours after goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and assistant coach Rob Zettler entered the protocol. Head coach Jon Cooper missed the Vegas game because he tested positive and remains out.
To help with the suddenly depleted goaltending situation, the Lightning on Monday summoned Maxime Legace and Hugo Alnefelt from Syracuse. The 28-year-old Legace has played in 18 games with Vegas and Pittsburgh. The 20-year-old Alnefelt was a third-round selection of the Lightning in the 2019 draft and made his professional debut with the Crunch earlier this season.
Defenseman Sean Day, 23, was also called up from the Crunch. Acquired from the Rangers in 2020, Day has yet to appear in an NHL game.
Also Monday, the Canadiens added five players to their protocol list after already having four players unavailable due to the virus.
Some teams throughout the league, such as the Canadiens, are having to go about serious roster shuffling as a result of players not being available. To help deal with this, the league and the players’ association agreed to the addition of temporary taxi squads from which players can be summoned to fill the voids resulting from those entering protocol.
That is how things currently are around the league and teams have no choice but to deal with it by dressing players that typically would not be with the parent club. That said, taxi squads should help, at least to some degree, prevent postponements. As of Monday afternoon, 67 games were postponed, including all 14 games that were scheduled Monday night. The league extended the holiday break on the back end by scrapping Monday’s schedule so that all teams can have another day to assess and respond to their respective personnel issues.
As for making up postponed games, the NHL announced last week it would not participate in the Winter Olympics. What would have been a two-week break in February can now be utilized for postponed games to be played.
“It’s not ideal, but at the same time every team is going through it,” said Stamkos, referring to the roster and scheduling upheavals. “We have already played seasons that have gone long into the summer and have had short off-seasons. It is getting to the point now, where we canceled the Olympics so that we have some time there to plug in some games. We do have to get some games in if we can do it safely and where teams have adequate players in the lineup.”
No games at Amalie have been canceled yet this season. Hopefully, that will remain the case.
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