The coronavirus continues to trouble the Dallas Stars, who head for Chicago without head coach Rick Bowness for a key pair of games with the Blackhawks on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
The defending Stanley Cup finalists, whose training camp was interrupted and first four games of the season postponed when 17 players tested positive, saw Bowness placed in the league’s COVID-19 protocol between periods of Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Carolina.
The club, pointing out that the 66-year-old coach had been fully vaccinated, expressed hope that Bowness simply had a false positive in one of the league’s daily tests.
Goalie Anton Khudobin had a positive test on Saturday and was forced to miss both games against the Hurricanes but then tested negative in subsequent tests and returned to the active roster on Monday.
Assistant coach John Stevens, a former NHL head coach with the Flyers and Kings, took over for Bowness mid-game on Sunday. Stevens performed a similar feat last season in St. Louis when Bowness was ill.
“It’s nothing new to us,” said captain Jamie Benn. “We dealt with it last year, we’re dealing with it again this year, and we’re just going to keep pushing forward.”
Still, it’s a distraction for a Dallas team that heads into the key series with Chicago five points behind fourth-place Nashville for the final playoff spot in the Central Division and three points behind the fifth-place Blackhawks.
Stars general manager Jim Nill is traveling with the team said there is hope that Bowness also had a false positive but there is no timetable for his return.
“Rick has been vaccinated. We think it’s a false positive, but protocol, once it is flagged, there are different levels with the PCR testing,” Nill said. “There are different levels of the infection rate. He was a very low grade, but it’s still positive, and so out of safety concerns, he was pulled.”
Stars defenseman John Klingberg said, “It’s weird times.”
“First Dobby (Khudobin) and now Bones (Bowness),” Klingberg said. “I don’t know. He’s fully vaccinated as far as I know. … It’s out of our control, it is what it is, and you have to deal with it.”
Dallas did pretty well at Carolina without Khudobin, the team’s star during last year’s Stanley Cup run. Rookie Jake Oettinger played both games in net and stopped 78 of 81 shots (.963 save percentage) as Dallas won the first game on Saturday, 3-2, but got blanked 1-0 on Sunday.
“That was playoff hockey right there — close game, physical, goalies played well,” said Benn. “It would have been nice to get one there, but it didn’t happen tonight.”
Chicago, which has lost two in a row and four of its last five, also comes in off a shutout loss, 3-0, at Nashville on Saturday. The Blackhawks fell to 0-3-2 against Nashville this season, failing to get any of their season-high 41 shots on goal past Juuse Saros.
“Hockey’s a weird game,” forward Dylan Strome said. “I thought we played pretty good. We had a lot of chances. We ran into a hot goalie and they scored on their chances. It’s frustrating, but we have to find a way to climb out of this little hole we’re in and get some wins.”
–Field Level Media