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Avalanche practice, to return to play following COVID-19 postponements

Makar out, MacKinnon back against Golden Knights on Sunday

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

Jared Bednar expressed concern Thursday about the Colorado Avalanche returning to play after an 11-day pause to their season.

The Avalanche, who last played Feb. 2, went into quarantine due to the NHL COVID-19 protocol following a 2-1 win against the Minnesota Wild and return with the first of two games at the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, NHL.TV).

"[I've] got a lot of concern, especially after our practice today," Bednar, the Colorado coach, said. "The guys don't have their legs underneath them. We'll just see how the next couple days go. We'll put our best foot forward, but do I have concerns, absolutely."

Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar will not be in the lineup Sunday because of an upper-body injury. Bednar said he's not sure when Makar was injured and he is day to day.

Makar is second on the Avalanche with 12 points (one goal, 11 assists), two points bedhind forward Nathan MacKinnon. who will be available to play. He missed one game with a lower-body injury that initially was thought would sideline him for weeks.

"I feel really, really good coming back," MacKinnon said Saturday. "I'm excited to start to go play and get into a rhythm here and start playing every other day again."

Colorado (7-3-1) was on a 4-0-1 streak before having five games postponed: one against Minnesota, two against the St. Louis Blues, and two against the Arizona Coyotes.

"Taking time off and going to play Vegas, which is a really good team that's been firing on all cylinders," Bednar said. "They're ready to go and waiting on us. We'll do our best to go in there and win some hockey games."

Bednar said the Avalanche struggled at practice at Ball Arena.

"The work ethic was fine, but there was lots of rust, it was slow, it wasn't great, but that's what you'd expect to see with that much time off," he said. "We have some practice time here, so hopefully our legs start to come around and we start to improve here real quickly over a short period of time.

"It's not the start of the year where you're coming out of [the] All-Star break or bye week like years past where the other teams are in the same boat. We've been sitting and Vegas has been playing; they'll be sharp and hungry and we're just trying to get moving again."

The Golden Knights (9-2-1) have won four of five after not playing for nine days from Jan. 27-Feb. 4 due to the protocol. Vegas forward Tomas Nosek was pulled during a 5-4 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19. They were unable to practice Wednesday before losing to the Ducks 1-0 on Thursday. They defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Saturday.

Colorado forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Jost, and defenseman Samuel Girard are on the protocol list and won't travel to Vegas.

Forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and defenseman Devon Toews practiced Thursday after missing three games each with a lower-body injury.

"They went through another practice today, no complications from yesterday's practice," Bednar said Friday. "They were back at it again today and all three guys said they were feeling good."

Goalie Philipp Grubauer said he skated at a local park, hiked, and worked out at home during the break. He rode a Peloton bike and used computer programs to simulate game action.

"I'm trying to get some reaction and get your brain going and your eyesight going because hand-eye coordination for a goalie is the biggest thing you have to be good at, so I tried to train that," he said. "We've got a couple days to go until the first game. Today was a good step, and we have to make sure we execute at practice tomorrow and battle hard and get ready for the game."

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