RALEIGH, N.C. — Because of the NHL’s new bye week format that sandwiched the All-Star Game between the four-day break, 13 teams return from their time off and face an opponent that’s been playing games.
The Knights were one of the lucky ones.
Carolina also ended its bye week Friday, and it will be even-steven with both teams trying to shift back into high gear when they meet at PNC Arena.
Tonight is the first of two straight games where PIT's opponent is coming off the bye week and they've already played. TB is one of 13 teams who come off the bye playing a team that's already played; ANA, BOS, CHI, DAL, EDM, LAK, MIN, MTL, NYI, NYR, OTT and STL are the others
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) January 31, 2019
This marks the opening of a four-game road trip for the Knights (29-19-4, 62 points), who haven’t played since a 2-1 loss at home to Nashville on Jan. 23.
It’s also the first leg of a back-to-back that wraps up Saturday at Florida.
But first, here are a few storylines worth watching coming out of the bye:
■ Right wing Reilly Smith (undisclosed) remains on injured reserve as of Thursday morning, according to the roster on the team’s website, and his status for the game against the Hurricanes is unclear. Before the All-Star break, Smith was skating in a noncontact jersey at practice.
The Knights will hold a morning skate Friday, and that should provide more answers about whether Smith will be activated. To clear room for Smith, the Knights would have to make a corresponding move.
Which is a perfect segue for …
■ Defenseman Jake Bischoff and goaltender Maxime Lagace were recalled from the American Hockey League late Wednesday.
Bischoff’s recall likely means one of the Knights’ seven defensemen is not healthy. Nick Holden missed the game against Nashville with an undisclosed injury and was listed as day to day.
Should Holden (or another defenseman) remain sidelined, he could be placed on IR to open a spot on the 23-man roster for Smith.
Lagace served as the backup for the past six games, and Malcolm Subban remains on IR, according to the team’s website . Subban did not practice before the break, and Lagace’s recall indicates Subban is not ready to return Friday.
Coach Gerard Gallant said Jan. 24 that he expected Subban to return shortly after the break “if not right after the break.”
It is not known whether Subban or injured forward William Carrier (undisclosed) will join the Knights on the trip.
■ There is also the matter of a mini slump the Knights hope to shake coming out of the break.
The Knights have lost two straight and four of their past six. They faced five teams currently in a playoff position during that stretch and came away with two of a possible 10 points, with the only victory against Pittsburgh.
The Hurricanes (24-20-6, 54 points) sit five points out of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference and are 6-3-1 in their past 10.
The Knights defeated Carolina 3-0 on Nov. 3, which was Marc-Andre Fleury’s 50th career shutout.
Carolina is 13-8-4 at home, and the Knights hope to avoid seeing one of the Hurricanes’ unique postgame victory celebrations.