It doesn’t seem like an Avalanche season without the grinning, toothless friendly face of Avalanche alternate captain Erik Johnson.
Up until Sunday, though, the team had been without Johnson, as he underwent quarantine following a positive covid-19 test. Now, he’s finally back — and ready to go.
Johnson joined Avs prospect Bowen Byram in making their first appearances of the season on Sunday, with Johnson earning his clearance for COVID protocol following his positive test and Byram finally being released from quarantine following his late arrival due to the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships:
Johnson seemed to be in high spirits upon his return, expressing his frustration that a positive test derailed his arrival on the ice while also acknowledging how important community safety and health is.
It was difficult, you train all offseason to get ready and then just before camp to have a positive was discouraging, but I just try to look at the bright side,” said Johnson, via NHL dot com. “It’s a global pandemic, its’ killing people, and I am grateful that I am healthy now and able to play hockey. Health is of the upmost importance first and foremost and had to make sure everything was OK. The team health officials did a great job getting me squared away, and it was good to get back on the ice yesterday and today.”
For Byram, his arrival kick-starts a pre-arranged timeline to making an NHL debut — but head coach Jared Bednar doesn’t plan on letting anyone know what that is just yet.
More on their arrivals, via Mile High Hockey.
In some formerly-known-as-the-Central-Division news, the Chicago Blackhawks lost on Sunday — again, bringing their season record so far to 0-3-0.
The Florida Panthers made their season debut, reversing course on what was initially expected to be a game with Keith Yandle as a health scratch. And it paid off; the long-time NHL veteran defender scored his 100th career NHL goal, while rookie Eetu Luostarinen scored in his NHL debut, long-time Panthers Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau got on the board early, and Patric Hörnqvist rounded things out in a decisive 5-2 win.
And that’s !— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) January 18, 2021
Congrats Yands!! pic.twitter.com/xz0WUxRcyR
Continuing around the formerly-known-as-the-Central-Division, Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine’s status is a bit murky following the team’s return from a covid-19 practice cancellation.
The 2016 second overall pick scored two goals in the team’s season opener, bringing him to 140 career goals in just 306 games and counting. But he left practice early on Sunday, and there’s no news yet on if he’ll be available to play the team’s game on Monday.
The Jets would have to disclose, per league protocol, if Laine’s departure and subsequent murky status was due to covid-19 protocols. But if he’s simply struggling with an injury, that could still be a major blow to the Jets in the ultra-competitive Canadian North Division.
In other injury news, Avalanche 2021 divisional rivals in Arizona will be without their captain for at least the next handful of games, as the Coyotes announced on Sunday that Oliver Edman-Larsson has been placed on Injured Reserve retroactive to their game against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, January 16th:
Ekman-Larsson was taken out by a nasty hit along the boards at the hands of Sharks forward Evander Kane, whose contact started out innocuous-enough looking before getting a bit hairy due to a raised stick colliding with the back of Ekman-Larsson’s neck:
GEESH— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) January 16, 2021
Trainer is out to tend to Oliver-Ekman Larsson after this hit by Evander Kane. pic.twitter.com/WX3tFoyVJV
The Coyotes suggested that the Swedish-born defender will be reevaluated in the coming days and could return before long, but he didn’t travel with the team for their two-game series against the Vegas Golden Knights — leaving them without some much-needed momentum from the blue line leader to kick off the season.
Speaking of European players, the NHL’s website doesn’t seem to have caught on that the Ottawa Senators are letting German-born forward Tim Stützle use his name with the umlaut this year:
Finally, it’s not an NHL season without a bit of drama — and given that this NHL season is inherently already more dramatic than most, it was only a matter of time before something got supremely messy.
In this case, it’s been a player-media bout of drama that reared up during the first few days of NHL Pandemic Hockey, with long-time Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek getting into it — and reportedly getting a bit of a scolding from the league — with a sassy clapback for a local media member during his allotted time in the team’s Friday night post-game Zoom call.
Voracek was asked a post-game question by Mike Sielski of The Philadelphia Inquirer following the team’s 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The question itself is of little consequence, since Voracek would ultimately go on to answer it; first, though, he made sure to let Sielski know that he had read his numerous Tweets and columns berating the Czech-born forward for not bringing the cup home to Broad Street just yet. For those who didn’t see it at the time:
truly losing it at Konecny doing his best to hold it together. pic.twitter.com/uePOzxxvJ3— Brad Keffer (@brad_keffer) January 16, 2021
The exchange was tense, although not nearly as tense as it could have been (for anyone who is new to hockey on the East Coast, former New York Rangers and long-time Sharks defender Dan Boyle wrote the handbook on laying down the law with slanderous media members).
Still, it appears that the NHL wasn’t thrilled to have another player getting upset with a media member — and they’ve reportedly given him a stern talking-to:
The league has had a “discussion” with Jake Voracek for his expletive-filled tirade during a virtual news conference after Friday’s game, per Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner. He wouldn’t comment on whether a fine was assessed. #Flyers #NHL— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) January 18, 2021
Was he harsh with Sielski? A little bit, sure. Did he use some language that maybe children shouldn’t hear, in the instance that their media parents decided to hop on the team Zoom call in the living room? Probably. But after being called out as the reason Philadelphia didn’t have enough leadership, Voracek decided to let the Philly-based reporter know he wasn’t thrilled to answer his questions like nothing was wrong — and he was probably well within his right, in the long run, to do that.
And for those of you who want to see a grown man’s hopes and dreams crushed before your eyes, here’s Andre Burakovsky delivering some tough news to Pierre-Eduard Bellemare.