Illness and injury again were the order of the day Tuesday for the Bruins, with word that the blue line took a couple of substantial hits with the exits of Brandon Carlo and Jakub Zboril.
Carlo became the 10th Black and Gold player, and first defenseman, to enter COVID protocol. Carlo, 25, will be ineligible to suit up Monday at home against the Penguins, what remains the NHL’s scheduled restart following a holiday break now slated to begin Wednesday.
Zboril, his game finally shaping into first-round-draft-pick form, underwent knee surgery last week and is expected to be sidelined the remainder of the season. That could change, however, if COVID-19 again pushes the postseason deep into the summer.
Zboril tore the ACL in his right knee when hit along the boards during a Dec. 2 game in Nashville, and had it repaired last Thursday at Massachusetts General Hospital by Dr. Peter Asnis. In the 2-3 weeks leading to his injury, Zboril had become a confident, dependable presence on coach Bruce Cassidy’s No. 3 pairing.
“He was playing well and pushed his way into the lineup, pushed some people out of the lineup,” said Cassidy, who twice during his playing career underwent the same ACL repair. “So for him, individually, it’s a tough one. He spent a lot of time to get to that spot where he was in the lineup every day.”
All in all, no relief from the storm for the Bruins, who saw the league place their business in mothballs Saturday amid the reignited COVID crisis in North America.
Carlo and Zboril had been two of the Bruins’ most steady, reliable defensemen of late, and now Cassidy will have to play master patchmaker again whenever the games restart.
Monday’s return game remains tentative, as do all NHL plans, as the United States and Canada monitor the COVID variant that finally Monday night convinced the league to postpone more games and alter the order of the holiday break.
The league decided that Tuesday night’s games would be its last before Christmas, postponing all action slated for Wednesday and Thursday. The start of the holiday break was moved up by two days and now will span Wednesday through Saturday, allowing clubs to reopen camps for COVID testing Sunday morning, hold practices, and, in some instances, travel to Monday’s games.
First, however, teams must see the results of the Sunday morning testing. If, say, a substantial number of Bruins are still popping positives, the league could order that the doors remain shut at their Brighton workout facility. In turn, the game Monday would be postponed, likely along with Wednesday’s visit with the Senators in Ottawa.
According to Cassidy, addressing the media during a scheduled late-morning Zoom session Tuesday, all 10 of his players thus far have exhibited little in the way of symptoms and none has been hospitalized.
“No one has had any more than mild symptoms,” said Cassidy, who earlier this month spent a 10-day tour on the COVID list. “Nobody even close, from my understanding, to being hospitalized. A couple of guys had flu-like symptoms. Other guys had none.”
Rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman was among the Bruins to enter COVID protection in the days leading to Saturday’s shutdown. Last season, the Bruins took extra precautions with their goalies, making sure that Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak were distanced from one another in the dressing room in hopes to avoid both goalies getting ill simultaneously.
Cassidy said he expects there again will be changes to the layout of the Brighton dressing room once doors reopen. The expansive dressing room on Long Island during the Bruins’ recent stop in Elmont, N.Y., provided natural protection.
“That really helped,” noted Cassidy, chuckling slightly. “Almost to the point where it looked like we were missing more than one player to go out and play, because that’s how big that room was. That was an advantage.”
Trainers now, said Cassidy, will make some tweaks at Warrior Ice Arena.
“But I don’t know how much effect that will have,” he added. “There’s only so much room in there. We may go down the hallway. That’s what happened last year. We used the lounge, etc., to get players distanced at least 6-10 feet apart.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.