It’s been a busy week at rinks around the NHL, as 24 return-to-play teams hit the ice in preparation for puck drop on Aug. 1.
We’ve been tracking various developments to come out of camps all week. Check back throughout the day as we collect more news and notes from Day 4:
Vegas to continue captain-by-committee approach in playoffs
Starting today’s edition of our training camp blog with a note that came out of yesterday’s camp in Vegas:
The Vegas Golden Knights will continue to play without an official team captain for the remainder of 2019-20, opting not to head into the post-season with a “C” stitched onto anyone’s sweater. Instead, they’ll continue relying on a large leadership group.
“We don’t need to add to everything that’s going on here right now. We were playing real well going into the pause, I like how we’ve come out of the pause,” head coach Pete DeBoer told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve got great leadership — a big group of guys that have really taken charge and recognize the opportunity, so we’re just gonna keep it the way it is until we finish this season.”
DeBoer said the team will be naming a captain — the first in franchise history — ahead of next season:
DeBoer: We're not going to name a captain before we go back, but we will have one prior to the start of next season. pic.twitter.com/zprI9R164r
— y-Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) July 15, 2020
Pastrnak’s return halted, ruled “unfit to play”
However, after his absence was noted on Thursday, head coach Bruce Cassidy announced he’d been ruled “unfit to play.”
Unable to elaborate, per league rules, on any player’s absence right now, Cassidy added that the team has no choice but to prepare for any length of possible absence.
Dallas taking advantage of camp do-over
One of the biggest questions about each of the 24 teams returning to play is how quickly they’ll be able to shake off any rust and be at their best right out of the gate.
Though the Dallas Stars eventually emerged as one of the top clubs in the Western Conference — and one of four teams in the West with an automatic berth in Round 1 — it took them a little while to get there. After a lacklustre camp in September, the Stars stumbled in the early going and lost eight of their first 10 games.
“We were not happy with our training camp last year and it showed coming into October,” interim head coach Rick Bowness said during a media availability Thursday morning.
Bowness said the tone was set prior to players arriving, with a team-wide email to make it clear that this time around things will be “totally different.”
“This is something, clearly, no one’s been through. The intensity coming out of this camp is going to be far greater than coming out of camp in September and early October. You’re going right into it and you’re not going to have time to find your game,” Bowness told reporters. “That’s why it’s important our practices are upbeat, our tempo is good, and we’re working on the things we know we have to work on. The players have to bring a good attitude every day and we can’t waste a day — there’s just not enough time.”
The Stars’ place in the standings means they’ll have a little bit of cushion compared to other clubs. While each team will play just one exhibition game prior to the Aug. 1 start date, Dallas’s first real action will come in the form of three round-robin games against the Golden Knights, Avalanche and Blues, while eight other Western teams are thrown right into a best-of-five qualifying round.
Still, there’s little room for error.
“Our whole mindset has got to be totally different coming into this camp and certainly coming out of this camp — because you’re going right into the fire,” Bowness said.
Miro Heiskanen expects to be up to speed for another playoff run in no time: "I think one exhibition game is enough for me."
— x-Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) July 16, 2020
Flames’ groupings still under the microscope
The playoffs bring pressure for every team contending, but perhaps none more this year than the Calgary Flames.
The Flames finished atop the Western Conference last year only to be unceremoniously ousted in five games by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. A disappointing season one year earlier held them out of the post-season altogether after being swept by the Ducks in 2016-17.
All this pressure has made the separation of star forward Johnny Gaudreau from the main group (and all of his usual linemates) at training camp this week all the more interesting in Calgary.
Head coach Geoff Ward hadn’t been able to go into any details when pressed earlier this week, but said Thursday that he’s been really pleased with Gaudreau’s performance so far in camp.
General manager Brad Treliving also addressed reporters and discussed the groupings on Thursday in an effort to put an end to speculation around the decisions behind the separation of players, which continued for Thursday’s skating sessions. Treliving made it clear that fitness or disciplinary measures did not factor into the groupings, and said all decisions in that regard were made out of caution and nothing controversial.
“With all of our players, we couldn’t be more happy with the conditioning levels that they’ve come to camp in. So any thought that people are skating with certain people because they’re in trouble or didn’t do what they’re supposed to do is not correct. It’s 100 per cent incorrect,” he said. “We’ve had to separate our groups because of circumstances, and we’re taking every precaution needed. I will leave it at that.”
When asked about Gaudreau specifically, Treliving said he’s “ecstatic” with how his star has performed so far this week.
“Johnny Gaudreau has never looked better,” Treliving said, adding that he couldn’t speak highly enough about the work level No. 13 has put in over the hiatus.
“I don’t think he’s ever looked better. He’s absolutely flying out there. He’s in a great frame of mind. I’m totally ecstatic where Johnny Gaudreau is right now.”
Vladimir Tarasenko with Thursday’s quote of the day:
Battles in the blue paint
The Nashville Predators’ goaltending situation has been intriguing all year, and now we await the naming of a Game 1 starter between veteran Pekka Rinne and netminder of the future, Juuse Saros.
Look at the Predators’ playoff past, and it’s all Rinne — as The Athletic‘s Adam Vingan pointed out, the 37-year-old has started every single Predators post-season game since 2010. But it’s Saros who backstopped the club to this year’s dance, having started the bulk of their games down the stretch.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are another club whose crease has been shared by two starters: Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Head coach John Tortorella is on record as calling that one a “coin flip” at this point, as both options are solid and give the club a strong shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs.