After long COVID pause, Canucks ready to play Oilers

NHL Hockey

Just over three weeks since they most recently were on the ice for a game, the Vancouver Canucks will return Friday night with a home game against the Edmonton Oilers.

A COVID-19 outbreak left 22 players and four staff members testing positive overall. There were 16 Canucks players on the COVID-19 list earlier this week, and as many as seven players were still on the list Wednesday.

The Canucks finally are scheduled to have their first practice Thursday in advance of Friday’s game and will be immediately tested against the Oilers’ powerful offense.

In order to catch up on the games they missed, the Canucks are scheduled to play 19 games in 31 days. And the marathon starts by having to face Edmonton forwards Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.

“This is going to be a really tough challenge,” Canucks forward J.T. Miller said. “And you know, even for me, skating a couple times, my lungs are screaming and definitely not in game shape at all right now from sitting around and not doing much. I couldn’t imagine what these guys (who tested positive) are going to have to go through to get back and be ready to play at a high level.”

The schedule is tightly packed, but at least the Canucks will be able to play the first six games in their return at home. In total, the team had eight games postponed.

The Canucks were on a three-game losing streak before they hit pause, and there is no telling how they might play in a demanding return when they play five games in seven days at the outset.

“I’m just hoping everybody can stay as healthy as they can be here,” Miller said. “… I haven’t really thought about expectations or how ready to play I’d be. I just know that it’s going to be tough to jump back into a game against a really good team.”

The Oilers are comfortably in third place in the North Division but have had an unsteady run of late, going 4-2-2 since March 27 that followed a commanding 7-2-0 stretch.

Edmonton will enter off a 5-0 loss at Calgary on Saturday that dropped the Oilers into third place. McDavid took just one shot as Edmonton was shut out for the fourth time this season. But that game was Saturday, leaving the Oilers well rested but less game seasoned.

“The schedule has had some quirks this year because of the situation, and you just have to deal with the hand that you’re dealt,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said.

While the Canucks are restarting the season, the Oilers are of the same mindset. They are preparing to play the final 14 games as something of its own mini-season.

“We’re obviously looking to (play better) over the next little stretch here,” Draisaitl said. “The playoffs are not something where you can just flip a switch and feel great. You have to earn that. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Edmonton will be without forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (12 goals, 16 assists), who was placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

–Field Level Media

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