LOS ANGELES — It will be Kris Knoblauch 2.0 behind the bench here on Monday when the Rangers meet the Kings the day after head coach Gerard Gallant entered COVID protocol while Artemi Panarin exited it.
Gallant, 58, ran Sunday’s practice at the Kings’ facility in El Segundo before conducting his press briefing. Panarin, who had missed the last four games after going into protocol on Jan. 2, was a full participant after flying out to rejoin the team on Saturday.
“The first couple of days were not my best [with symptoms] but today was fine,” said Panarin, who had been able to skate on his own in New York while the team has been on the road. “For sure I’m ready to play.”
Gallant is the fourth member of the traveling party to test positive since the club chartered to Las Vegas on Tuesday, joining Igor Shesterkin, Julien Gauthier and Ryan Reaves on the restricted list. Assistant coach Mike Kelly is also under protocol after having tested positive last Sunday.
There is a mandatory five-day period of isolation following a positive test. This means that Gallant will not be able to return for Thursday’s game in San Jose. The Blueshirts’ next one after that is scheduled for Jan. 15 in Philadelphia … which is where Knoblauch’s six-game tenure ended with a 4-2 record while subbing for the then-COVID-afflicted head coach David Quinn.
Knoblauch received acclaim for his low-key handling of the New York bench though the 43-year-old now in his second season as head coach of the AHL Wolf Pack said that he merely was a turn-key operator of Quinn’s lineups and systems.
Mika Zibanejad, who has scored seven goals in his last eight games, amassed 16 points (8-8) in six games playing under Knoblauch, while recording two hat tricks and two six-point performances within nine days against the Flyers.
The Wolf Pack are 15-9-2 after having beaten 19-3-3 Utica 2-1 on the road Saturday with a makeshift lineup missing eight players summoned by the Rangers who include Morgan Barron, Zac Jones, Tarmo Reunanen, Tim Gettinger, Jonny Brodzinski, Lauri Pajuniemi, Anthony Greco and goaltender Keith Kinkaid.
Gallant cautioned not to leap to conclusions regarding Monday’s alignment, but Panarin skated with Ryan Strome and Barclay Goodrow while Alexis Lafreniere joined a third line consisting of Kevin Rooney in the middle and Filip Chytil on the right. The Pack Line with Barron centering Gettinger and Brodzinski remained intact while Greg McKegg skated as a spare.
Patrik Nemeth, who has missed the last four games while dealing with a personal matter, skated on Jarred Tinordi’s right side. That will likely represent the third pair against the Kings. Nils Lundkvist was paired with Libor Hajek at practice.
“He’s a big presence on the blue line,” Gallant said of Nemeth. “He’s played really well, he kills penalties, he’s a shutdown type of guy. We’re excited to get him back. If he’s ready to go, we’ll see but it’s good to see him back with our team again.”