NHL teams ready to navigate unique 2020-21 season

Sean Couturier didn’t mind the NHL bubble experience over the summer. The Flyers were set up in a Toronto hotel for six weeks, and while that kind of living got old fast, they were playing playoff hockey. For the 2020-21 season, the forward is eager to play home games at Wells Fargo Arena and get to spend time with his wife Laurence and newborn daughter Ella.

That will be one of the big advantages for players this season. After 24 teams spent time in Toronto or Edmonton hotels as part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, there will now be a bit or normalcy as they grind through the 56-game schedule.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, protocols remain in place to keep players and staff healthy. In-season outbreaks within teams has occurred in every sport since March. Just last week the NHL announced the Stars would not begin their season until Jan. 19 at the earliest after six players and two staffers tested positive. The league reported zero positives out of 33,174 tests given during the Return to Play. But now with games at home arenas and players not holed up in bubbles, every precaution will be taken.

“As far as the surroundings, it’s definitely much different,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “Making sure you have masks and are socially distancing. There’s a lot of rules, a lot of regulations and a lot of things that we have to be aware of here just making sure everyone stays safe and healthy.”

There will be no player carpools, no roommates on the road and no group outings to restaurants or bars. The NHL will require to reserve two extra hotel rooms for away games in case someone tests positive. Once games begin, the NHL will reveal players who test positive. Coaches must wear masks on the bench.


Violating any protocols could result in loss of draft picks, significant fines, or even forfeiture of games.

“This will be really important how the team handles the protocol, and the team that can manage to remain the healthiest is going to have a competitive advantage perhaps over those that have a tougher time, while recognizing that some of this is chance,” said Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon.

“Guys are going to have to be extremely disciplined,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “We’re seeing what can happen in the NFL, MLB, the NBA in terms of one guy kind of breaking the rules and other guys have to quarantine or not be able to play. We realize the magnitude of that. It’s going to be difficult, but the NHL, our teams have done a great job of putting all these different protocols in place and it’s up to us as players to follow them. It’s such a short year that you can’t really afford to have any mishaps and guys be out of the lineup because of COVID. I think we realize that and we’re just looking forward to playing some hockey here again.”

NHL Realignment changes

There will be the challenge of following COVID-19 protocols and then there will also be the challenge of the 56-game, intra-divisional schedule for the East, West, Central, North divisions.

“It’s an interesting division because just about anyone can win,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid said of the all-Canadian North Division. “I’m looking forward to it. I think the all-Canadian division is exciting. You look at some of the rivalries, some of the matchups, it’s a pretty exciting division.”

A schedule with 26 fewer games and playing only against teams in your division will put an emphasis on a strong start and more pressure on avoiding slumps.

[NHL PREDICTIONS: NHL Awards, first coach fired, free agent busts]

“We’re looking at a schedule where you can’t spend too much time on what just happened, but what’s going to happen next,” said new Devils head coach Lindy Ruff. “So if we lose a game we’ve got to move on, be ready for the next game. And we really have to enjoy where we’re at. Whether that’s a practice day, whether it’s the game the next night, let’s enjoy it and move on.”

“It’s going to be a sprint,” McCrimmon said. “We’re effectively beginning in the second half of the season right now, in a lot of respects, so there’s going to be a lot of hockey. It’s important to be ready, be prepared, and that’s what training camp will do for our team.”

Dealing with the time off

The seven teams that did not participate in the NHL Return to Play will have gone nine months without a game. Players were forced to adjust to the extra time in the off-season and adjust their training schedules. At first they had to sit and wait to see if the season would resume, then learned that the expanded playoff picture would not include them. Once the Stanley Cup was handed out in early October, there was even more waiting to see when the 2020-21 season would begin.

It wasn’t easy for some.

“It was one of the hardest years of my life, and then you had to sit at home for 10 months and think about it,” said Dylan Larkin, whose Red Wings last played March 10. “It definitely made it worse that we couldn’t have a short summer and work as hard as possible, then come back in September. But it gave us extra time to regroup and put in extra work, and hopefully come back and not be in that position again. For me, and in speaking with a lot of guys that were in town, let’s put the work in, let’s make sure what happened last year doesn’t happen again on our watch.”

[NHL Power Rankings: Contenders and pretenders for 2020-21 NHL season]

The extra time off was welcomed by Drew Doughty, however. The veteran Kings defenseman was one of a number of players who took care of nagging injuries through rest or, like in Brad Marchand’s case, surgery.

“You’re always playing with [injuries] and things are always nagging at you,” said Doughty. “Now, I finally had however many months off and my body is ready. I was able to actually lift weights, for real, and get heavy, get much stronger, when in the past it was all maintenance stuff. It was a blessing in disguise for me personally, and I think for our entire team, we’re all healthy again, we’re all more than ready to go for this season, we all prepared so hard on and off the ice. I took advantage of that time, that’s for sure.”

One goal in mind

The 30 teams that fell short of the 2020 Stanley Cup title had plenty of time to think about how to improve for 2021. One of the contenders for this season is the Avalanche, who fell in seven games to the Stars in the Second Round. They feel as if their time is now and chances to win a championship should not be taken for granted.

“You don’t have many chances to win,” said Nathan MacKinnon. “I thought last year there was a chance for us to win, and this is another one. Two out of eight seasons for me there was a huge opportunity. We need to do everything in our power not to waste it, to take advantage of this special group we have. We need to get the job done eventually.”

Opening night coverage begins with a special edition of NHL Live at 5:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN, leading into coverage of Penguins-Flyers. Kathryn Tappen anchors studio coverage throughout the evening with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp as well as NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

NBCSN LIVESTREAM: Penguins vs. Flyers – coverage begins at 5:15 p.m. ET

NBCSN LIVESTREAM: Blackhawks vs. Lightning – coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET

NBCSN LIVESTREAM: Blues vs. Avalanche – coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET


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.

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    Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Caps 4-3

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    Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

    The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

    An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

    “His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

    Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

    Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

    Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

    “It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

    Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

    Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

    Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

    “It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

    It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

    Not this season.

    While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

    Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

    Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

    DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

    “I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


    Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

    Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.

    Devils defeat Senators 5-3, clinch playoff berth

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    NEWARK, N.J. — Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist, Mackenzie Blackwood had 25 saves and the New Jersey Devils defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3 and clinched a playoff berth on Saturday night.

    “It means everything to the group. I went into the dressing room after the game and just said that I was proud of the work that was put in, proud of where we got to clinch tonight to be one of three teams that have an X next to their name,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “All the work that’s been put in, the adversity they face during the year. The adversity they face right at the start of the season to where we’ve got to now.”

    New Jersey could have clinched its first postseason berth since 2018 with a win, but it happened before their first intermission when the Florida Panthers lost to the New York Rangers in regulation.

    “I had a lesser role then,” said Jesper Bratt, who was a rookie for the Devils in 2017-18. “I would say at a younger age, it’s kind of like you think that just because it happened your first year that it might happen every year. And then it goes pretty fast with reality that was not the case and you got to work extremely hard for it.

    “It’s a really tough league. So this feels really good. It’s been a lot of years with struggle, not winning, and it’s just awesome coming out now playing these kinds of games and getting that.”

    Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Dougie Hamilton scored for the Devils and Tomas Tatar scored an empty netter with 42.3 seconds left to put things away.

    Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Mark Kastelic scored for the Senators and Dylan Ferguson had 30 saves.

    Tkachuk scored his 33rd goal of the season to give the Senators the 1-0 lead 3:14 into the first period. The Devils responded midway through the first period with Hughes’ 40th goal of the season on a breakaway, going five-hole to tie it.

    Nick Holden gave the puck away and Bratt scored his 31st goal of the season on the breakaway 2:24 into the second period to give New Jersey the 2-1 lead. Mercer’s 23rd of the season came just over a minute later.

    The Senators answered midway through the second period when Thomas Chabot scored his 11th goal of the year to cut the deficit to 3-2. They knotted things up 16:03 into the second when Kastelic scored his fifth of the season.

    “We were confident going into the third period. We felt like the game was there for our taking,” Travis Hamonic said. “They score on their chance, and that’s game.”

    Hamilton scored 3:34 into the third period to give the Devils the lead. His 19th goal breaks the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman, surpassing Scott Stevens – the Devils great whose number is hanging in the rafters – record of 18 in 1993-94.

    NOTES: This was the first game for the Devils backup Blackwood since Feb. 19. … Nico Hischier has a six-game point streak after recording two assists.


    Senators: Host the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

    Devils: Play at New York Islanders on Monday night. —

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    Kings tie franchise mark with point in 11th straight game

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    Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

    LOS ANGELES — Viktor Arvidsson had two goals and the Los Angeles Kings matched their longest point streak in franchise history with a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon.

    Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist and Alex Iafallo netted a power-play goal for Los Angeles, which has earned points in 11 straight games for the fourth time. The last occurrence was 2013-14, when the Kings won their second Stanley Cup championship.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped 25 shots for Los Angeles.

    Pierre-Luc Dubois scored for Winnipeg and Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves.

    Arvidsson – who has 22 goals on the season – has four in the last four games while Doughty has found the net four times in the last five games.

    Arvidsson’s first goal came 82 seconds into the game. Trevor Moore won the faceoff in the offensive zone and made a backhand pass to Arvidsson, who snapped it into the net from the back of the left faceoff circle.

    He also had an empty-net goal late in the third period.

    The Kings extended their lead to 2-0 five minutes into the second period on the power play. Phillip Danault made a great pass between Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon and Hellebuyck as Iafallo buried it into the short side of the net.

    Doughty extended the lead to 3-1 27 seconds into the third period with a wrist shot from outside the right faceoff circle near the boards after Anze Kopitar won the faceoff.


    Winnipeg got its first power-play goal in seven games with 1:23 remaining in the second period when Dubois took a cross-ice pass from Kyle Connor and scored from the left faceoff circle to get the Jets within 2-1.

    The Jets got a five-minute power play after Los Angeles’ Blake Lizotte received a five-minute match penalty for a vicious cross-check to Josh Morrissey’s face. The goal came with 33 seconds left in the man advantage.

    NOTES: Danault picked up his 300th career point and 200th assist. … Winnipeg’s Connor set a career high for most assists in a season when he got his 47th on Dubois’ goal.


    Jets: Travel to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

    Kings: Host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

    Coyotes minority owner suspended by NHL following arrest

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    Donald Page/Getty Images
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    NEW YORK — Arizona Coyotes minority owner Andrew Barroway was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Friday following his arrest for domestic violence in Colorado.

    Online court records show Barroway was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of second-degree assault strangulation, a felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He appeared in court Friday to be advised of the possible charges he is facing and is scheduled to back in court on April 3.

    Barroway spent Thursday night in Pitkin County Jail after police arrested him at an Aspen hotel, according to a police report obtained by the Aspen Daily News.

    “The National Hockey League is aware of the arrest of Arizona Coyotes’ minority owner Andrew Barroway,” the NHL said in a statement. “Pending further information, he has been suspended indefinitely.”

    The 57-year-old Barroway was arrested after a verbal altercation with his wife turned physical, according to the police report. He is prohibited from having contact with his wife, except when it involves their children, and can’t consume alcohol under a court order.

    A prominent hedge fund manager, Barroway owns 5% of the Coyotes.

    “We are aware of the allegation regarding Mr. Barroway and we are working with the League to gather more information,” the Coyotes said in a statement. “When we have enough information, we will have an appropriate response. Until the investigation is complete, we will have no further comment.”