Sharks respond to coronavirus Santa Clara events ban
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Sharks respond to Santa Clara ban on large gatherings due to coronavirus

(Update: The Sharks will play home games without fans for the foreseeable future. Read their updated statement here.)

The Sharks must mull over playing home games in front of an empty arena, or other options, as Santa Clara announced a ban of large events following the first coronavirus-related death in the area.

Santa Clara County officials announced that there will be a ban regarding meetings of people of 1,000 or more. It’s a three-week ban scheduled to go into effect at midnight on Wednesday.

Such a ban would affect the Sharks … eventually, as their next home game at the SAP Center takes place on March 17. (San Jose is beginning a four-game road trip in Chicago on Wednesday [March 11].)

The Sharks/SAP Center released the following statement:

“SAP Center at San Jose is aware of the County of Santa Clara’s Public Health Department order to prohibit public and private mass gatherings through the end of March. We will adhere to the mandated guidelines. No events are scheduled at SAP Center until Tues., March 17. We will be reviewing each scheduled event due to take place for the rest of the month and provide an update in the coming days. We appreciate the understanding and patience of our fans, guests and partners during this unprecedented time.”

How Sharks might play games amid coronavirus events ban

This link contains an interesting timeline of events that went on amid concerns, including a March 6 contest for the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks’ AHL affiliate.

As that release notes, more details will be released. At the moment, the Sharks and/or NHL are mulling over a few options:

If the three-week ban ends up being all that’s necessary, the home games within that window are a March 19 game against the Canadiens, versus the Bruins on March 21, and a match against the Coyotes on March 29.

Of course, the full extent of the coronavirus — including how long it may persist — is still unclear. With that in mind, note that the Sharks close their season with two home games (April 2 against the Stars and 4th against the Ducks).

Judging by this bit from the AP, the Sharks probably weren’t certain to play in their 2-1 OT Saturday loss to the Senators, nor their 4-3 Sunday loss to the Avalanche.

The Ottawa Senators’ road game against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night remains on schedule despite a recommendation to cancel large gatherings in the county where the arena is located.

Money is on the line here, but with the Sharks far out of the playoff race, here’s hoping that safety is the biggest priority.

MORE ON THE RIPPLE EFFECTS OF THE CORONAVIRUS FOR HOCKEY EVENTS

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers remember Colby Cave as training camp opens

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As the Oilers skated for the first time together since the March 12 NHL pause, Colby Cave looked on from above.

With Rogers Place sporting some fresh ice, the image of the late Cave was on the scoreboard as the Oilers practiced Monday as training camps opened for the 24-team Return to Play.

Cave, 25, died April 11 after suffering a brain bleed. He was set to be one of the team’s Black Aces when play resumed.

“Colby was an unbelievable young man, great teammate. Obviously a friend to everybody in our locker room,” said Tippett. “He would be with us today if he hadn’t passed. He planned to be with our group. He’s with us in spirit.”

[Related: Cooper Marody honors late Colby Cave with tribute song]

The Oilers are preparing for their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Oilers, which begins Aug. 1. Cave played 44 games with the Oilers in the last two seasons and spent most of 2019-20 with AHL Bakersfield. He had many friends on the roster, and his teammates will use his memory as inspiration going forward.

“This is first time we’ve all been together in a big group since Colby passed,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “Those emotions are still fresh, and it makes it even more real now that we’re all together and he’s not able to join us. He’s going to be in our thoughts and in our hearts as we go forward and move through training camp and into the [playoffs], and hopefully, go on a deep run here.

“We’re going to play for Colby, and he’ll be with us throughout.”

MORE: Day 1 of NHL training camps: Uncertainty about Crawford, and more

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Toews on COVID-19; Olympic roster projections

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Jonathan Toews on COVID-19: “Does anybody really know how and when people catch this thing? The best you can do is get good rest, eat healthy, take care of your body, do the little things that lower your chances. What else can you do? Sitting around and worrying about it is just going to drive you crazy. The NHL’s gone to great lengths to create a safe environment. It’s far from perfect, but everyone has their own beliefs in seeing where they stand with all this.” [Sun-Times]

• Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, who last played Nov. 30 and has been out with concussion issues, said he will not return this season but plans to come back in 2020-21. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Panthers assistant coach Mike Kitchen, 64, has opted out of the rest of this season. [TSN]

Alex Ovechkin‘s contract expires next summer. Is he thinking about an extension? “Not even talking, not even thinking about it because right now we have lots of stuff to do.” [NBC Sports Washington]

• Olympic Talk projects the 2022 Olympics rosters for Canada and the U.S.

• Can Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022? [Olympic Talk]

• How Edmonton won the bid to be one of the NHL’s two hub cities. [Edmonton Journal]

• Mikhail Grigoreko’s one-year, $1.2 million deal that was voided back in April was approved Monday. [Sportsnet]

• A flat cap will cause plenty of headache for Jim Benning and the Canucks. [Sportsnet]

• If Brock Boeser is indeed on the trading block, how aggressively should the Wild pursue the Canucks forward? [Hockey Wilderness]

• A pair of UMass Boston hockey players are going to inline skate from Boston to Michigan to raise money for the American Cancer Society. [WCVB]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Davidson pleased with Rangers’ first practice in return

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The New York Rangers were playing some stellar hockey coming out of the All-Star break to move into playoff contention. After four months away during the NHL’s stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic, team president John Davidson liked what he saw in their first practice back.

“I feel strong about the way we played at the time of the pause, and after what I saw today … I feel really good about things,” Davidson said Monday on a video conference call with reporters.

“I’m very proud of our group. Not just the players, but the training staff, the doctors, everybody involved. …. We’ve been going at this for eight weeks, 10 weeks. We’ve had Zoom calls, we’ve talked about the virus itself and how you can protect yourself, the players, the coaches, the staff, everybody has paid attention to it.”

The Rangers were 19-18-4 in early January after losing three straight on a trip through Western Canada. They picked up their defensive intensity and got into a groove after the All-Star Game with a 12-2-1 run to climb into the playoff race. A 2-4-1 stretch followed to leave them two points behind Carolina and Columbus for one of the Eastern Conference’s two wild cards when the season was interrupted on March 12.

When the league decided to go straight to a 24-team postseason in May upon resumption, the Rangers were seeded 11th in the East based on points percentage and drew a matchup with sixth-seeded Carolina in a five-game series in a play-in round for the Eastern Conference playoffs in Toronto starting on Aug. 1.

“Guys are excited for the opportunity we have right now,” Mika Zibanejad said. “There’s a lot of laughter, a lot of fun in that locker room. I’m hoping we’ll continue where we left off.”

The Swedish center had a career-high 41 goals in 57 games. His 75 points eclipsed his previous best of 74 set the previous season in 82 games.

“I felt obviously more confident and the puck went in,” Zibanejad said. “I didn’t do it by myself. I get put in pretty good situations, pretty good spots on the ice and teammates did an unbelievable job to get me the puck in that situation and I was able to score.”

One of those teammates was Artemi Panarin, the biggest prize in free agency last summer. Panarin had a stellar debut season in New York with a career-high 95 points in just 69 games. He finished with career bests in goals (32), assists (63) and power-play points (24).

Rangers coach David Quinn said he wants his team to pick up where it left off, but also preached caution during this training camp.

“We really liked a lot that was going on with our chemistry and our D pairings,” he said. “I want to give these guys an opportunity to find that again. That might take some time because every guy’s had an opportunity to do different things when it comes to staying in shape during this four-month break. … Some guys had more access to things than others.”

A big question remains concerning which goalie will get the start for Game 1 against the Hurricanes.

Veteran star Henrik Lundqvist struggled in the first half of the season and saw backup Alexandar Georgiev (17-14-2 with a 3.04 goals-against average) get increased playing time. Igor Shesterkin made his NHL debut in early January and went 10-2-0 with a 2.52 GAA to earn the No. 1 spot.

Davidson said all three looked “very sharp” in Monday’s practice, adding “it’s going to be up to the coaches when they put their heads together and make that decision.”

Lundqvist said the time away gave him a chance to work on his skills and conditioning, as well as his mental preparation.

“I feel coming back now I’m in a really good place in all three areas,” he said. “We’re three guys competing for one spot, so we’ll see who gets to play.

”I just take it day by day here and work as hard as I can and see if it’s enough to play. And if it’s not enough to play I’ll try to be very supportive and just go from there.”

Quinn plans to let the competition play out during training camp before deciding on his starter for the series opener.

“I had a meeting with all three of them about how important the next three weeks are going to be,” the coach said.

Pucks and masks prevalent as 24 NHL teams open training camp

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St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is so accustomed to wearing a mask, he didn’t mind doing so for the past four months during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Sometimes, I forgot I’m wearing it while driving,” Binnington said Monday, when the Blues were among the NHL’s 24 teams to open training camp for the upcoming playoffs. “You make fun of those people who are driving by themselves with a mask on, but I sometimes forget.”

Goalies weren’t the only ones wearing masks as the NHL hit the ice, en masse, in the first full glimpse of hockey’s return since the regular season was placed on pause March 12.

Masked equipment managers patrolled the benches, clearing them of water bottles and towels following practices. In Nashville, general manager David Poile, 70, wore one while watching the Predators practice from a private suite.

And in Dallas, Stars interim coach Rick Bowness wore a mask while observing practice from an empty bench. At 65, he wasn’t taking any chances.

“I was going to err on the side of caution. I’m still very nervous about the COVID, and we haven’t tested our players since last Thursday,” Bowness said. Once results come back, he intends to return to the ice, perhaps as early as Wednesday

Players and staff all have their eyes on resuming the season with an expanded 24-team playoff set to begin in two hub cities – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, — on Aug. 1.

“On the ice is normal,” Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “On the ice is same rules what we have before. But soon as you step off the ice in the locker room, everybody have to wear a mask. It’s kind of weird, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to get used to it.”

Players and everyone else who will be spending up to two months inside the “bubble” — including hotel staff, bus drivers and arena workers — will have no other choice but to get accustomed to the new reality if the NHL hopes to complete its most unique season. Once games resume, they will be played in empty arenas, with as many as three games played per day at each site, and with the Stanley Cup awarded in late September at the earliest.

There is no guarantee the league will be able to pull it off.

Though the familiar sound of pucks, skates and sticks echoed through arenas once again, the reminders of COVID-19 were also prevalent.

The NHL announced that 43 players had tested positive for the coronavirus from June 8 through the end of the league’s optional workouts. In Toronto, star forward Auston Matthews confirmed he tested positive while spending the break at his home in Arizona last month.

“It was the safest place to be,. And then obviously things flipped pretty quickly there,” Matthews said. “I did my quarantine, and I’m feeling healthy now, so it’s all good.”

In Pittsburgh, the Penguins voluntarily sidelined nine players after learning they may have had secondary exposure to a person testing positive for COVID-19. NHL rules barred the Penguins from revealing who the players were, but the most notable player not on the ice was forward Patric Hornqvist.

Captain Sidney Crosby remained upbeat.

“It’s a matter of everyone working together and doing our best to be safe,” Crosby said. “Whether you are a player or a fan, you miss the game. You also have to understand the seriousness of what’s around you. We’re trying to find a balance for that… I’m optimistic.”

It was a far different story in Denver, where the Avalanche had nearly a fully complement of players practicing, which is a considerable turnaround. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Cale Makar and goalie Philipp Grubauer were among the formerly injured players back on the ice, with only center Colin Wilson deemed not fit to play.

“The fun thing about returning now, after having some time off and jumping right into the most important time of year, is that you’re going to see everyone’s best players healthy, rested,” coach Jared Bednar said. “We’re all anxious and champing at the bit ready to go, which should be a lot of fun.”

In St. Louis, the defending champion Blues welcomed back scoring star Vladimir Tarasenko, who sustained a major injury to his shoulder 10 games into the season and was projected to miss five months.

“It’s a nice little secret weapon we’ve had all year, waiting to come back,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Tarasenko. “Seemed like a pretty seamless transition, jumping back in with the rest of us.”

In Nashville, coach John Hynes drew out plays on a white board at the edge of the ice, with players gathered closely around him. Inside the arena, half the seats inside the lower bowl stayed stacked away, leaving concrete around much of the ice.

Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said the unknowns and questions left him concerned during his return from his native Finland to the United States. Now, the 37-year-old goalie feels much more comfortable after seeing the protocols being used.

“We come to the Bridgestone Arena and you could eat off the floor,” Rinne said. “I mean, it’s clean. It’s a safe place so far.”