Detroit — The wait to play another hockey game got a little longer Tuesday for the Red Wings.
Coach Jeff Blashill learned just before practice, receiving a call from general manager Steve Yzerman, that the Wings’ game Wednesday at the New York Islanders was postponed.
Both teams continue to have fluid issues with COVID-19 protocol, with players coming on and off the list.
So the Wings, who haven’t played since Dec. 18, are now pointing toward Friday’s New Year’s Eve game against the Washington Capitals at Little Caesars Arena.
“It’s unfortunate,” said goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic who returned to practice Tuesday after time on the protocol list. “At this point we just kind of want to play games.”
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The Wings, despite a shorthanded roster, were definitely in game mode.
They scheduled a mid-afternoon practice Tuesday in anticipation of getting further COVID testing results and possibly getting a few more players cleared. They had a scheduled 5 p.m. flight to New York in hopes of getting to the hotel, then playing Wednesday.
But the Islanders had more positive COVID tests Tuesday, on top of five players Monday. Now the Wings have four games to make up this season — a home game against Colorado, and road games against the Islanders, New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild.
“I was disappointed,” Blashill said of the postponement. “I’m happy for the guys who would have missed the game so they now don’t have to miss the game, but I want to play and get going. We’re all anxious to play again.
“(But) we all understand these are tough times and we just have to work through them.”
By Friday, the Wings could have most of their roster cleared to play — except for forward Lucas Raymond and defenseman Nick Leddy. Both will be near the end of their time on the protocol list.
Nedeljkovic and forward FIlip Zadina rejoined the Wings on Tuesday. Defenseman Jordan Oesterle and forwards Adam Erne, Sam Gagner and Joe Veleno will be eligible to practice in the next two days.
Blashill said Tuesday’s practice was a step ahead of Monday’s session, with more bodies able to skate and the fact players are regaining their timing.
Nedeljkovic believes teammates are simply want to return to game action.
“It felt good on the ice,” Nedeljkovic said. “The pace was pretty good for being a little bit short staffed. Everybody is itching to kind of get into a rhythm and play games.”
Returning to the ice for the first time since playing in Carolina Dec. 16, Nedeljkovic said he felt better than expected during practice. He said he probably could have played through most of the time he was on the protocol list.
“Just a stuffy nose, I was maybe a little tired that day after (testing positive). But I’ve played through worse in juniors and the last few years in pros,” Nedeljkovic said. “You wake up and feel achy or sore some days (in pros) and just kind of grind through it. (But) other than the one day (during protocol), I had minor symptoms and I felt fine.”
There were reports Tuesday the the NHL and its players association have had conversations about the new CDC COVID protocols and potentially clearing quarantine closer to five days, rather than the current 10 days.
With seven Canadian-based teams in the NHL, it’s expected any potential changes would be difficult to enact.
The NBA and NFL have already imposed changes, and swifter quarantines. Nedeljkovic is hopeful the NHL will follow suit.
“It’s weird, especially with this variant now, the guys aren’t getting super sick, if at all,” Nedeljkovic said. “You wouldn’t know it if you weren’t testing, and I understand why we’re testing. But when you get the flu — and you’re not testing for the flu — guys are walking around the locker room with runny noses and stuffed noses, and coughing here and there. Everybody kind of looks the other way and you go about your way.
“But because we’re testing, we don’t show any symptoms and we have to go home and kind of sit around for 10 days and it doesn’t really make sense. Hopefully the league kind of takes a closer look at it now with the CDC saying you only need five days to quarantine.”