The Bruins were packed and prepared to head to Canada after their 3-1 loss to the Islanders in New York Thursday night even as four more players and one staff member were put on the NHL’s COVID protocol list.
Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic, Oskar Steen and Jeremy Swayman joined Brad Marchand, Craig Smith and Patrice Bergeron in the league’s protocol. As many as 140 players have entered the league’s protocol this season with an alarming surge that’s added more than 30 players this week.
After leaving New York, the Bruins are set to continue their three-game road trip with stops in Montreal on Saturday and Ottawa on Sunday. The Montreal Canadiens are among several teams dealing with COVID issues.
In a step resembling measures taken last season, the Canadiens played Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with no fans in attendance. Ontario officials ordered Wednesday that any venue that holds more than 1,000 people must limit capacity to 50 percent.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who returned to the team Monday after spending two weeks quarantined, said the team had no discussions about not going to Canada.
“I have not heard,” Cassidy said. “We are packed, ready to go. Everyone’s brought their stuff for the full three games. If something changes, something changes, But there’s been no conversation that I’m aware of.”
Prior to leaving, the Bruins decided to stay in New York an extra night to avoid the possibility of a team member testing positive in Canada, where restrictions are tighter.
Cassidy added that he hadn’t received any word from the NHL about how many cases would lead the league to postpone a game. So far, 10 games have been postponed.
“You’ve seen other teams get canceled,” Cassidy said. “Carolina got canceled. I don’t know for how long. I’m not even sure how many cases they have. Obviously, Calgary has a huge amount. So, just as a guy that’s paying attention, yes, tomorrow, we might get a phone call just because of what’s going on around the league. But we’re preparing to go to Montreal tomorrow and play in Montreal and Ottawa.
“But obviously, I think [in] the league there’s concern, right. When there’s this many cases in many different teams, should you pump the brakes or not and that goes up the food chain. As I said, we’re ready to go, but obviously, some teams are more affected than the others.”
Blidh, Frederic and Swayman did not travel with the team to New York. Cassidy said the team did talk Thursday morning about concerns traveling to Canada.
“Especially guys with families and the holidays would not want to spend it in the hotel room in Montreal or Ottawa,” Cassidy said.
The Carolina Hurricanes have two players — Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis — and a staff member quarantining in Vancouver after the team lost to Canucks there last Sunday.
“If there’s no update on the Aho situation, I think players would be well within their rights to say, hey, what happens to me if this is the case.”
Seeing the virus impact not only the NHL but sports at large much the same way it did a year ago, Cassidy admitted it was frustrating to be back at the same point, but he was also hopeful about signs of progress.
“I think that the important part is, going forward if all these teams come out of it and the players and the staff … come out of it healthy, not having to visit a hospital, being in ICU, being on a respirator, then clearly we’re much farther ahead than we were a year ago, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Cassidy said. “The vaccine has, we’re going to assume, [helped] that. Now boosters are in place. So with that, there’s an opportunity to revisit [what] are the protocols going forward. Are people getting sick or is it more like the flu?
“Those are questions that are for other people, but at the end of the day, the frustration is obviously being out when you’re feeling a little bit down. But for the most part, most of the players, I don’t think they they feel like they’re down and out for the 10 days or the two weeks It’s two or three days. So that might get looked at, might not.”
Goalie Kyle Keyser and forward Jasper Frödén were tapped as emergency call-ups from Providence.
Keyser is 4-5-3 with a 2.44 goals against average and .914 save percentage in 12 games in Providence this season. With back-to-back games this weekend, Cassidy’s still deciding where Keyser will fit in.
“It’d be a great opportunity for him to get in a game if that’s the case,” Cassidy said.
Frödén put up 13 points (four goals, nine assists) for 13 points in 21 games this season.
“He’s a skill player, can play in traffic, make plays, complement good players,” Cassidy said. “He’s played the bumper on the power play, which for us, losing Bergy and Smitty, is important. You have someone in there that’s displayed it before.
“It’s a very cerebral position and not not just a matter of plunking yourself in there and things are going to happen automatically. So that will help us.”
Cassidy left the door open for the possibility of more moves should more players test positive.
“There’s a lot to think about going forward,” Cassidy said.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.