NHL Buzz: Rantanen, OConnor return to practice for Avalanche


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Colorado Avalanche

Forwards Mikko Rantanen and Logan O’Connor practiced for the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday after being removed from NHL COVID-19 protocol and could play Sunday at home against the Anaheim Ducks.

“Both guys looked pretty good,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “You could tell it was a little bit hard to work for them as some of the other guys. [O’Connor] looked like he was hurting a little bit from a conditioning standpoint, but we still have two more practices before we play Anaheim.”

Rantanen practiced at right wing on the top line with left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Nathan MacKinnon. O’Connor was at right wing on a line with left wing J.T. Compher and center Alex Newhook.

Defensemen Ryan Murray and Bowen Byram practiced in regular jerseys for the first time since each sustained an injury. Murray has missed nine games with a lower-body injury he sustained Nov. 27 against the Nashville Predators and Byram eight games with a head injury he sustained Dec. 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Bednar said goalie Pavel Francouz could return from COVID-19 protocol as early as Friday, and forward Darren Helm could clear protocol Saturday.

The Avalanche (17-8-2) have gone 13-2-1 in the past 16 games. They haven’t played since a 5-2 loss against Nashville on Dec. 16. — Rick Sadowski


Tampa Bay Lightning

Jon Cooper will coach the Lightning at the Florida Panthers (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, BSFL, BSSUN, ESPN+, NHL LIVE) after missing the past two games when he was in NHL COVID-19 protocol.

Assistant Derek Lalonde filled in as coach for a 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 21 and a 5-4 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

“You leave the team and they get four points out of four, that’s what you want to do, that’s been the way our team has gone,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if our style points were four out of four but the points matter.”

Cooper said it was frustrating watching the games but credited the players and coaching staff for stepping up in his absence.

“It’s like when you lose a star like [Nikita] Kucherov or a star like [Brayden] Point, or stars like [Steven] Stamkos in the past when he had his injury troubles, and guys have been able to step in,” Cooper said. “It’s no different with coaches. We’ve set the standard here. We’ve got something in place that is pretty darn special. … It’s taken some time to build that but it shows that when you have success, it can happen and guys like myself can step aside and they don’t miss a beat. When you look back at that as an organization you feel pretty good.”


St. Louis Blues

Pavel Buchnevich, Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist each been cleared to play for the Blues against the Minnesota Wild in the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; TNT, SN1, TVAS, ESPN LIVE).

Buchnevich missed a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday because of a non-COVID-19 illness but the forward took part in an optional practice Thursday.

Barbashev, a forward, was removed from NHL COVID-19 protocol Thursday.

Buchnevich is second on the Blues with 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 29 games. Barbashev is fourth with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 31 games.

“They’re both fine,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “‘Buchy’ is feeling a lot better today and ‘Barby’ is cleared to play. … I think [Buchnevich] is cleared to play; he skated today. I think he’s fine. I can’t predict two days later.

“Barby has just one skate, is going to skate tomorrow night a little bit. We’ve got options, so it’s a good thing.”

Sundqvist was removed from COVID-19 protocol Tuesday and the forward has practiced the past three days but was not available to play Wednesday.

“‘Sunny’ I think’s a go,” Berube said. “He’s skated now a couple times; he’s feeling pretty good.”

Forward Brayden Schenn, who has not played since sustaining an upper-body injury Dec. 12, skated Thursday, his fifth straight day of practice, but Berube was not sure of his availability.

“‘Schenner’ is still up in the air,” he said. “We’ll have to play that one by ear. It’s how he feels. I think it’s day to day and it feels different. He’s a tough one, so we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.”

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and forward Dakota Joshua, each in COVID-19 protocol since Dec. 26, will not travel to Minneapolis. — Lou Korac


Ottawa Senators

The Senators canceled practice Thursday out of an abundance of caution.

Ottawa is scheduled to play at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Senators coach D.J. Smith exited NHL COVID-19 protocol Tuesday and goalie Filip Gustavsson was removed from protocol Wednesday.

Ottawa last played Dec. 18, a 4-3 overtime loss at the Philadelphia Flyers.

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