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Rusty Avs return after week away due to COVID-19 protocols

Bob McKenzie discusses how Ron Hextall and Brian Burke can help Pittsburgh and why they should prioritize Sidney Crosby, while also stressing the Penguins' need for a goaltender.

DENVER — Colorado’s first practice in a week was pretty much as Jared Bednar expected — rough.

“Lots of rust,” the Avalanche coach said Thursday. “Looked slow. Wasn’t great.”

Now, the tricky part: Quickly getting up to speed after their week-long shutdown due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols. Colorado is scheduled to play Sunday and Tuesday at Vegas.

“We’re the team sitting and Vegas has been playing,” Bednar said. “They’ll be sharp and hungry and we’re just trying to get going again.”

The Golden Knights are also in a precarious situation at the moment. The NHL announced Wednesday that Vegas forward Tomas Nosek tested positive for COVID-19 a day after he was removed from playing in a 5-4 win over Anaheim. Nosek was placed in isolation and the league conducted close-contact tracing. Everything remains on schedule for the Knights.

There was a side benefit to the Avalanche’s break. It allowed a few banged-up players to mend and not miss games. Nathan MacKinnon, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Devon Toews — all recently sidelined by lower-body injuries — were back on the ice Thursday. The trio may be ready for action by Sunday.

“There’s always silver linings,” said Nazem Kadri, who worked out at his home gym to stay in shape. “You have to look a the positive side of things. One of them is we get a few guys back. The more healthy we are, the better of a team we are.”

Off to a 7-3-1 start, the Avalanche were in a groove and about to host Minnesota last week, when the game was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols involving the Wild. Soon after, Colorado was shut down as well, with captain Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Jost and Samuel Girard added to the protocol list after additional testing. They weren’t at practice Thursday.

In all, Colorado’s missed five games during the layoff. Hence, being out of rhythm. in their return to the rink.

“I’ve got a lot of concern,” Bednar said. “The guys don’t have their legs underneath them.”

Goaltender Philipp Grubauer tried to stay in shape during the hiatus by going on hikes, riding his Peloton bike and zipping around a local park on a new pair of inline skates. He also worked on a computer program designed to keep his eye-hand coordination sharp.

It helped. Just not enough.

“There’s not much you can do off the ice that simulates practices or game situations,” Grubauer said. “We’ve got a couple days to go until the first game. Today was a good step.”

As for increasing league-wide protocols to limit contact even more, that could be a difficult proposition, Bednar said.

“When you’re trying to coach a team to win, you have to be together. You have to have a feel for your team and the players have to have a feel for one another,” Bednar said. “We’re already split into different locker rooms and doing virtual meetings.

“I don’t know how you’re going to get the performance out of the players that you normally get when you’re connected as a group. I don’t know if that’s possible.”

NOTES: The Avalanche will rely on Hunter Miska as Grubauer’s backup in net with Pavel Francouz sidelined by a lower-body injury. ... Bednar said the players on Colorado’s protocol list are “doing fine.” ... Bednar said he didn’t have many conversations with his team over the break. “I didn’t feel there was a need for seven days off to be checking in,” he said.