Unexpected postponement in Anaheim further loads Red Wings' schedule

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

What was supposed to be a typical road trip to the West Coast has taken a turn for the Red Wings.

Thursday's COVID-19 postponement in Anaheim has forced the Wings into playing three games in four nights around California.

They'll play Saturday in Los Angeles, then 21.5 hours later, they'll  head south to face the Ducks in the rescheduled game. They Wings finish the trip Tuesday in San Jose.

Left wing Jakub Vrana was back skating after practice Friday.

Next week brings games at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday against Winnipeg and Saturday (Buffalo). Then another back-to-back Jan. 17-18 in Buffalo and Philadelphia.

That's a lot of hockey. And a daunting task.

"That's kind of the reality of the world we're going to have the rest of the way," coach Jeff Blashill said after Friday's practice at the Kings' facility in El Segundo.

The Wings also have to make up four other postponements due to the virus. The NHL hasn't yet released the updated schedule. A staggering 101 NHL games have been postponed.

"We'll have to deal with it," Blashill said. "We would have rather played the game. The spacing is better if we had played the game. We certainly were ready to play. The league has had to make a lot of decisions that are very difficult decisions. These are unprecedented times and they felt the decision was the best decision (to postpone until Sunday)."

The Wings were definitely in game mode Thursday.

They had finished their morning skate, which began at 11:30 a.m. Pacific time. They had a full workout, did their media obligations and two shuttles headed back to the Orange County hotel.

Blashill was on the second bus when general manager Steve Yzerman texted and said the Anaheim game was postponed and was likely to be rescheduled. Minutes later, at 1:30 p.m. PST, the NHL sent an advisory the game was postponed until Sunday at 8 p.m..

The Ducks had eight players in COVID protocol and another three injured.

"I had a slight inkling during the morning," Blashill said of Thursday's game being in jeopardy. "I knew they had another guy, or two, test positive. So we had a slight inkling. By the time I got off the ice, though, because enough time had gone that I thought we were going to be playing.

"I was surprised when I got the text. I was in game mode. I thought we were going to be playing."

Normally, the NHL wants to give teams at least 22 hours between games. But the fact Orange County to downtown Los Angeles is drivable may have been a factor in bending the requirement.

"At the end of the day, we're going to play and the half-hour difference won't make a difference," Blashill said.

The compacted schedule for the next two weeks, at least, is a microcosm of what to expect in March and April. Many games and not many chances for quality practices.

Blashill is hopeful the Wings are far enough into the schedule where their systems are ingrained and can overcome the lack of practice time.

"Lack of practice time makes it difficult," Blashill said. "Hopefully we can keep our habits through video and teaching through video. That's what we're hoping for."

Vrana skating

Forward Jakub Vrana (shoulder surgery) is on this trip and skated with defenseman Troy Stecher (wrist surgery) after the Wings' team practice.

Vrana hurt himself 10 minutes into his first training camp practice and has yet to play this season.

The original estimate was Vrana possibly returning after the Olympic break in late February.

With no Olympics taking place now for NHL players, has the timetable been readjusted?

"There's still a window in that period," Blashill said. "Is is sooner than that? The only person that can tell us that is the surgeon and we haven't had those conversations yet. It's nothing that is imminent. It's nothing that'll happen in the next couple of weeks.

"He's been skating for a while and he'll keep skating. It's nice to have him on the trip and keep him as part of the team a little bit more. But ultimately, he still has to take the time to heal and the surgeon will be the deciding factor on that (possible return)."

The addition of Vrana to this lineup would be intriguing.

After arriving from Washington last season as the primary piece from Washington in exchange for Anthony Mantha, Vrana scored eight goals in 11 games including one four-goal game. Vrana showed the ability to break open games with his natural goal-scoring ability.

"He has an ability to score on one shot," Blashill said. "He has the ability to score that can be a separator in a lot of games. Shooters can turn the tide of games. He brings us that element."

But Blashill was cautioned Vrana has some weeks to go before returning.

"He can't shoot yet, he's not even to that point yet," Blashill said. "It's just minor stickhandling, I'd say. Not even really passing. So it's just more just keeping his legs (moving)."

Ice chips

With the power play slumping, Blashill continued to tweak it by returning Lucas Raymond to the flank position and Robby Fabbri in the bumper. 

... Blashill also kept Michael Rasmussen on wing on the second line with Fabbri and Pius Suter, while putting Joe Veleno at center between Adam Erne and Vladislav Namestnikov on the third line.


Twitter: @tkulfan

Red Wings at Kings

Faceoff: 10:30 p.m., Saturday, Crypto.com Arena

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Outlook: The Kings (16-13-5) had a two-game win streak ended Thursday with a 4-2 loss to Nashville. ... This is the first of two games between the Wings and Kings this season. ... C Anze Kopitar (20 assists, 29 points) and C Adrian Kempe (14 goals) lead offensively, while G Jonathan Quick (10-8-4, .921 SVS) has rebounded from a mediocre last season.