NHL alters protocols to contend with coronavirus

With coronavirus problems cropping up and five teams now idled — one of them, Vegas, is to resume play Friday — the NHL on Thursday revised its virus protocols in a bid to keep the season on track.

Glass panels have been removed from behind benches for better air flow, players and coaches are not allowed at the arena until 1 hour, 45 minutes before the game unless they’re getting treatment for injuries and all meetings must be virtual.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is mindful there might be “more aggressive transmission of the virus and will continue to make adjustments.”

“Every day things change, and you just go with the flow,” Dallas coach Rick Bowness, 66, said. “If there’s no glass behind the bench, there’s no fans back there, so it’s not going to affect anything. It shouldn’t at all.”

The 31 teams were also told to alter locker room setups to provide 6 feet of space between people.

The league is not yet considering adding a daily rapid test to go along with PCR testing, like the NBA did. PCR tests are considered to be more accurate, but there’s a 12-24 hour turnaround on results.

The moves were made as the NHL sees some concerning trends, including 40 players on the COVID-19 protocols list.

The Rangers' Ryan Strome, who scored twice, fires the puck past Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek.

The Rangers’ Ryan Strome, who scored twice, fires the puck past Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek.

Bruce Bennett / Associated Press

Colorado on Thursday joined the list of teams whose season has been put on hold. Its addition came on a day in which Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger, 61, tested positive for the coronavirus and Minnesota added a seventh player to its COVID-19 protocols list.

So far, 22 games have been postponed, affecting 16 of the league’s 24 U.S.-based teams.

Thursday’s games

Ovechkin nets No. 709 in loss

Washington’s Alex Ovechkin scored career goal No. 709 to surpass Mike Gartner for sole possession of seventh place on the NHL list, but it wasn’t enough for the Capitals, who fell to the Rangers 4-2 in New York.

Ryan Strome scored twice for New York.

Phil Esposito is sixth in history with 717 goals.

Predators 6, Panthers 5: Filip Forsberg — who had two goals and three assists — beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on a breakaway four minutes into overtime for visiting Nashville, which scored twice in the final 2:06 of regulation. Jonathan Huberdeau had a hat trick and two assists for Florida.

Senators 3, Canadiens 2: Rookie Tim Stutzle had a goal and two assists as visiting Ottawa snapped a nine-game losing streak. The Senators (2-8-1) had not won since their season opener against Toronto on Jan. 13.

Blackhawks 6, Hurricanes 4: Alex DeBrincat scored twice and Patrick Kane had a goal and three assists as host Chicago ended Carolina’s five-game winning streak. Hurricanes wing Martin Necas exited in the final minute after a check resulted in him hitting his head on the ice.

Blue Jackets 4, Stars 3: Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic scored for the first time since being acquired from Winnipeg last month as host Columbus beat Dallas.

Maple Leafs 7, Canucks 3: Jason Spezza’s eighth career hat trick, his first in nearly five years, led host Toronto past Vancouver. Auston Matthews scored twice and William Nylander added three assists for the Maple Leafs.

Coyotes 4, Blues 3: Antti Raanta made 39 saves as Arizona got its first road win of the season in four tries by snapping St. Louis’ four-game winning streak.

Jets 4, Flames 1: Mason Appleton scored two goals as host Winnipeg beat Calgary.

Briefly: The Blue Jackets put goalie Elvis Merzlikins on injured reserve because of an upper-body injury suffered at practice Wednesday. … Kings defenseman Sean Walker, who had not played since he was hit in the face by a slap shot last week, will have surgery on his nose. The Athletic reported that he is expected to be out for at least two more weeks.