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Pete DeBoer welcomes break, says Knights have ‘dealt with a lot’

Updated December 23, 2021 - 10:59 am

Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer had a quick message for his team Tuesday before it split up for four days.

“With what’s going on in the world, it’s even more important this time of year to enjoy family and friends and children and grandparents,” he said. “Have a good holiday and see you soon.”

And with that, the Knights were off. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association’s decision to move the annual holiday break up because of COVID-19 outbreaks means the team won’t reconvene until a Monday morning skate before its game against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena.

The break gives the Knights a chance to rest, recharge and heal. It’s sorely needed after all they’ve dealt with in their first 32 games.

“Our group’s ready for a break,” DeBoer said. “We’ve dealt with a lot the first half of the season. We’ve dealt with it really well, but both physically and mentally, we could use a break and hopefully we’re back playing on the 27th.”

The Knights have plowed through the first two-plus months of the season like a runaway train.

They have more than 140 man-games lost, more than the 121 they had last season in 56 games. Sixteen skaters and one goaltender, Robin Lehner, have missed time. The only ones who have suited up for every game are right wings Reilly Smith and Keegan Kolesar and defenseman Brayden McNabb.

The schedule didn’t allow the Knights time to lick their wounds. They entered the holiday break in a tie with Anaheim for the most games played in the league. Their Tuesday loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was their fourth game in six days and eighth in 14.

Despite that, they’re tied for first in the Pacific Division in points with the Ducks with 40.

“We’ve showed up and worked and battled right to the buzzer every night,” DeBoer said. “Our resiliency is something that I really liked. Hopefully the second half we won’t have to deal with as much as we have the first half.”

Whether that happens probably depends on how the Knights manage the spread of COVID-19. They’ve had eight players enter the NHL’s protocol, with right wing Evgenii Dadonov and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo going in Tuesday.

Players will have to be smart during the break to make sure that number doesn’t grow.

“You just kind of have to be cautious of your surroundings, who you’re with,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “It’s a sticky situation. A lot of people are trying to figure it out, and it’s something we’re going to have to battle through going forward.”

The team’s approach could change if the NHL’s does. The league and players association agreed to enhanced protocols through Jan. 7 that include daily testing, increased masking, no more dining out on the road and an emphasis on virtual meetings.

Some want more changes. Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said because the NHL is almost fully vaccinated and most players who test positive don’t get seriously ill, the league should not test vaccinated, asymptomatic players.

The NFL recently reduced testing for vaccinated players after multiple COVID-19 outbreaks.

“A lot of people support what Yzerman said,” Smith said. “I wish that was our approach.”

Yzerman’s plan might be harder to implement in the NHL, which includes seven Canadian teams and frequent cross-border travel. The Canadian government requires fully vaccinated travelers to produce a negative test before crossing.

What the protocols end up looking like will be another hurdle for the Knights. But for now, they can relax before thinking about their final 50 games.

“We’ll definitely take the rest,” left wing William Carrier said. “Body can get beat up a little bit. We’ve been playing a lot of games, especially those road trips and definitely playing some good teams.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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