LAS VEGAS — When COVID protocol took him out of the Rangers’ lineup, Kevin Rooney got to experience life as a Blueshirts fan.
"It was a little weird,’’ the 28-year-old forward said after the morning skate Thursday before the Rangers faced the Golden Knights to begin their five-game road trip. "I haven’t seen many Ranger games. I’ve played in most games . . . So I haven’t really got to listen to the home team broadcast. I thought that was neat. And Sam [Rosen] and Joe [Micheletti], they do a great job. So that was really cool.
"It’s stressful, though. So now I know how everybody else feels, fans and whatnot.’’
Rooney and defenseman Ryan Lindgren returned from COVID protocol and played in the Rangers’ 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
Lindgren tested positive Dec. 26, the day the team returned to practice after the Christmas break. Rooney tested positive the next day. Both missed the two-game trip to Florida last week and the home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday.
Both said Thursday that they were feeling fine after their bouts with COVID-19, and Rooney — who previously had COVID during training camp before last season — said he never had any symptoms.
"Actually, the last time I had it, I didn’t have symptoms either, but [the bigger problem then] was more the layoff, where I wasn’t allowed to work out,’’ he said. "But during this time, I was able to train hard and stay in shape, and that’s why I was ready to go so quick.’’
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, who made his first return to T-Mobile Arena since being fired as the Golden Knights’ coach in the middle of the 2019-20 season, said the team was happy to get the two players back in the lineup. Rooney, he said, has been a solid fourth-line forward and penalty-killer for the team.
"He’s one of those role players that, I think he’s got six or seven goals for us,’’ Gallant said. "We definitely missed him when he was out, especially as a penalty-killer . . . His defensive game’s really good and he creates some offense.’’
Rooney entered Thursday with six goals and one assist in 31 games, playing almost exclusively on the fourth line. He shifted from center to left wing when Gallant dropped Barclay Goodrow to the fourth line, and he stayed on the wing after Goodrow moved up to play on the Ryan Strome line and Gallant put Greg McKegg at center on the fourth line.
Rooney, a centerman his entire career, said it’s been an adjustment for him playing the wing. He’s leaned on Chris Kreider for tips on how to play wing in the Rangers’ system, and he said he has studied some video to try to figure things out.
"Some of the things on the breakouts are a lot different,’’ he said. "It’s different being on the wing and winning those wall battles, where in the middle, you’re kind of just getting the puck with a little bit of speed . . . They all laugh at me when I say that wing is harder than center because they think center’s harder than wing. But once you play center for so long, you get so used to it.’’
Rooney scored a career-high eight goals last season in 54 games, and when he had six goals in his first 24 games this season, he appeared well on the way to a career year. But he entered Thursday having not scored a goal or registered a point in his last seven games.
"Hopefully I’ll get one on the road trip,’’ he said.