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Improved Kings return with stern test vs. Golden Knights

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The Los Angeles Kings were beginning to find their footing when the NHL paused the schedule because of COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the league.

Los Angeles will try to pick up where it left off when it plays host to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night in its first game since Dec. 19.

The Kings had strung together a 5-2-1 stretch before the league announced an extended holiday break, helping them offset a 1-4-3 mark over the previous eight games.

When the Kings returned to practice Sunday, they welcomed back veteran defenseman Drew Doughty, who was in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol when the schedule was paused.

On the downside, forward Dustin Brown and defenseman Olli Maatta entered COVID-19 protocol upon their return, and forwards Quinton Byfield and Phillip Danault and goalie Cal Petersen remain in protocol, meaning they’ll likely be unavailable against the Golden Knights, Kings coach Todd McLellan said.

In addition, Kings assistant coaches Marco Sturm and Trent Yawney are also in protocol.

“We’ll have to continue to work and get the most out of what we have in the lineup,” McLellan said.

That might include the NHL debut of 20-year-old center Alex Turcotte, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Turcotte was called up from the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League on Sunday and centered the second line during practice.

“There’s potential,” McLellan said of Turcotte making his debut on Tuesday.

The Golden Knights last played on Dec. 21, losing to the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 to end a five-game winning streak.

Vegas forward Keegan Kolesar told reporters after practice on Monday that he didn’t foresee any difficulty getting back up to speed.

“Rest is a weapon,” Kolesar said.

Shortly before Vegas returned to practice on Monday, the team announced that coach Pete DeBoer and forward Brett Howden had entered COVID-19 protocol.

They were the first team members to join the list since defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and right wing Evgenii Dadonov went on prior to the Tampa Bay game.

Pietrangelo and Dadonov remained in protocol on Monday, and goalie Robin Lehner and forwards Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone did not practice because of various “bumps and bruises,” assistant coach Steve Spott said.

Lehner, Pacioretty and Stone will be game-time decisions against the Kings, Spott said.

Lehner was unavailable against the Lightning because of a lower-body injury, but Stone scored two goals in the game and Pacioretty had an assist.

Stone led the Golden Knights with 61 points last season and Pacioretty was the team’s top goal-scorer with 24.

Vegas defenseman Nicolas Hague returned to practice on Monday after missing the Tampa Bay game with an undisclosed injury.

McLellan said that when the Kings got back together on Sunday, they practiced like he expected after being off the ice for a week.

“Rusty, lethargic a little bit,” McLellan said. “What does that do for our momentum moving forward? I think each event is its own entity, so we’ll have to reestablish that momentum, the details and the game that we’ve been playing with once those games begin.”

–Field Level Media

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