The Golden Knights are two steps closer to full health.
Left wing Jonathan Marchessault and center Brett Howden exited the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol Friday and practiced at City National Arena. Marchessault hadn’t skated with the team since Nov. 16 and Howden missed Wednesday’s game against the Nashville Predators because he was ruled a close contact.
The Knights sent forwards Paul Cotter, Ben Jones and Jonas Rondbjerg to the American Hockey League’s Silver Knights to make room on the roster. All three made their NHL debuts this season because of the team’s numerous absences.
“I can tell you our Henderson coaches are happy,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “Probably the only team in North America that’s dealt with more than us is them.”
Marchessault is the Knights’ leading goal scorer with nine in 15 games. Howden has two goals and two assists in 16 games. They are two of five players who have missed games because of being in the COVID-19 protocol, along with left wings Mattias Janmark and William Carrier and forward Michael Amadio. The Knights are fully vaccinated.
Marchessault and Howden’s returns get the team a step closer to full strength after Carrier and left wing Max Pacioretty (lower-body fracture) rejoined the lineup Wednesday. The Knights still have centers Jack Eichel (neck), William Karlsson (broken foot) and Nolan Patrick (upper body) and defenseman Alec Martinez (face laceration) on injured reserve.
The healthy bodies — and the addition of center Adam Brooks on waivers — led to Cotter, Jones and Rondbjerg getting sent down.
Rondbjerg, 22, has played 13 games and has two goals and two assists. Cotter, 22, has two goals in six games. Jones, 22, has no points in two games.
“(Rondbjerg’s) a guy I’ve noticed that’s played real well,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “I think he’s definitely going to be somebody to look at down the road.”
Stephenson gets day off
Knights center Chandler Stephenson was given a maintenance day and didn’t practice Friday.
Stephenson is the Knights’ leading scorer with 19 points in 20 games, despite playing most of the season without his usual linemates in right wing Mark Stone and Pacioretty.
“He’s got probably the best raw skill on the team,” Pacioretty said. “Obviously, he’s a point getter right now but he hasn’t abandoned his defensive game at all while doing so. In fact, I think he’s gotten even better at it. Maybe that’s why he’s contributing so much offensively. A guy that’s definitely taking advantage of an opportunity that he’s earned and it’s nice to see a guy like that get rewarded.”
The Knights are fourth in the Pacific Division standings points-wise but three of their next four games give them a chance to climb.
The Knights (24 points) play second-place Edmonton (28) on Saturday, third-place Anaheim (25) on Wednesday and first-place Calgary (29) on Dec. 5.
“We have an opportunity this week to really make a statement and close the gap on the teams above us,” DeBoer said. “Maybe separate ourselves from the teams around us or below us.”