As Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron joined Brad Marchand and Craig Smith on the NHL’s COVID protocol list on Wednesday, the team dealt with the dilemma that several other teams are facing this week as positive cases continue to rise across the league.
Close to 30 players and team staff members have gone into league COVID protocols since Monday. The NHL has postponed nine games due to outbreaks across the league.
Without Marchand and Smith, the Bruins lost, 4-1, to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. They traveled Wednesday to New York to face the Islanders on Thursday to start a three-game road trip that will take them through Montreal on Saturday and Ottawa on Sunday.
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Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said there have been no discussions about postponing the two games across the border. However, concerns about the possibility of players testing positive in Canada, where restrictions are tighter, led the Bruins to reconsider their travel plans between New York and Montreal.
“For us, I know we’ve discussed staying in New York Thursday after the game as opposed to going right to Montreal, so that if anybody does pop [positive] there in New York, they can get back here a lot easier than being in Montreal,” Cassidy said. “That has been discussed. But going to Canada, I’m not aware that we’re not going.”
With 17 members of the organization in COVID protocols, the Calgary Flames had their season shut down until at least Thursday, postponing three games. The Senators have had three games postponed, the Islanders two, and Tuesday’s matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Minnesota Wild was also scrapped.
When asked to consider how many positive cases he believed warranted a postponement, Cassidy said it was up to the league to determine.
“They decided for Calgary it was unfair, right?” Cassidy said. “They postponed games for New York. So I think the league obviously measures some of that stuff and makes a determination. I don’t think three players is enough, personally. We’re going and we’ve got to be prepared to play.”
Cassidy said players could lobby to move the games to a later date, but that would have ramifications down the line.
“If they lobby when there’s a certain number of guys to reschedule, which is always a challenge down the road, our schedule is going to be very challenging as it is, so how do you fit those games in?” Cassidy said. “So I think there’s a lot that goes into it that. For me, I’m just kind of worried about getting our team back on track after a game the other night.”
According to an ESPN report, the NHL held a conference call with the players’ association and doctors and decided to implement enhanced protocols through at least Jan. 7. Players will go from testing every three days to testing daily.
In many ways, the conditions will resemble the ones put in place a year ago. The pandemic has stretched over nearly two years now, and Charlie Coyle was among players who had hoped not to be back in the same situation.
“That was the hope, right?” Coyle said. “But things happen a little different than you think sometimes. So you’ve just got to adapt as best you can and make the most of the situation ... We wish everyone was healthy and this wasn’t a thing right now, but it is.
“So what can we do about it? We can’t sit there and dwell and think ‘what if’ and all that. We’ve got to stay positioned and keep moving forward and hopefully this thing kind of diminishes and we can get back to playing hockey and focusing on that.”
Without Marchand (the Bruins’ leading scorer) and Smith, Cassidy said other players will have to seize the opportunity. Jack Studnicka and Oskar Steen were called up from Providence. While Cassidy has heard reports from Providence that Studnicka has been uneven, he believes the player he saw during training camp (and through the stint he spent in Boston earlier this season) can contribute.
“Other guys that get the opportunity have to step up a little bit, create a little more,” Cassidy said. “There’s a lot of different things that go into it. I don’t think you can ever replace Marchy, Bergy, different high impact guys in your lineup just by plugging someone in there. It’s got to be more about how the team performs as a group than one individual, and that’ll be the case here.
“We’re going on the road playing against some teams that have had some other issues of their own. The Islanders have gone through having to replace players. Other teams have to battle through it. That’s what’s in front of us right now.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.