The Bruins finally returned to the ice for practice on Sunday afternoon, skating for 45 minutes at their Brighton workout facility, only to learn late in the evening that they won’t play again until New Year’s Day at the earliest.
The hard-knock holiday season continues.
The Bruins-Senators game, scheduled for Wednesday night in Ottawa, was taken off the board around 10:30 p.m., one of three games the league added to its ever-lengthening postponement list due the COVID-19 pandemic.
It became the sixth game, and the second in Ottawa, that the Bruins now will have to make up over the remainder of the regular season. They’ll also have to find a new date to face the Canadiens in Montreal, and three dates on Causeway Street to face the Hurricanes, Avalanche and Penguins, the latter of whom were supposed to be at the Garden Monday night.
For now, unless the pandemic dictates another change in plans, the Bruins finally will suit up next when the Sabres in Boston for a Jan. 1 matinee – what stands to be their first game since their loss to the Islanders on Dec. 16 in Elmont, NY.
Meanwhile, left winger Brad Marchand made clear that he believes it’s time for the league to relax its COVID testing standards, to something more aligned with the NBA and NFL models, in an effort aimed at inching the NHL back toward a semblance of regular programming.
“At some point, we’ve kind of got to get back to normal,” he said, giving further voice to a sentiment expressed just prior to Christmas by team president Cam Neely. “Other leagues have gone to testing if you have symptoms. Otherwise, if you are asymptomatic, you just kind of go about your day. We definitely have to get to that.”
On the more personal topic of the Olympics, the 33-year-old Marchand was highly critical of the decision made just days ago, one reached mutually by the NHL and the Players’ Association, for NHLers not to participate in the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing,
The NHL, said Marchand, ultimately was reluctant to release its players for the Games, in part because, in his view, it’s not a money-maker for the league.
“I know, at the end of the day, they don’t care about the Olympics,” said Marchand, noting players worked “their entire lives” for the chance to play in the Games. “They don’t make money on it, and ultimately it’s a business — and we’re an asset, let’s just call a spade a spade.”
Marchand added, “It should be the players’ option to go play in the tournament. It’s the Olympics, the best of the best, and if you’ve earned the right and earned the opportunity to go there, you should have the option to go play.”
To further spice up what could have been a mundane news day, coach Bruce Cassidy said he believes Tuukka Rask, the winningest goalie in Spoked-B history, could be back in net by mid-January.
Rask, who will be 35 in March, was one of three tenders on the ice Sunday to take shots during the 45-minute workout.
“If he comes out of that OK,” said Cassidy, musing on Rask’s workout plans over the next three weeks, “then you’re looking at a guy that could be cleared to play.”
Rask, who underwent hip surgery on a torn labrum in the offseason, is an unrestricted free agent who first would need to come to contract terms with general manager Don Sweeney.
If Rask were to come back aboard, it almost certainly would necessitate demoting rookie stopper Jeremy Swayman to AHL Providence. Veteran Linus Ullmark, signed away from Buffalo in the offseason, has a four-year deal that carries an annual cap hit of $5 million. It also includes a total no-movement/no-trade clause the first two seasons.
No. 2 center Charlie Coyle became the club’s 11th player to be placed in COVID protocol recently.
Seven of the 10 players previously to be placed under protocol, including team captain Patrice Bergeron, Marchand and others, participated in the workout. That left only Taylor Hall, Oskar Steen and Brandon Carlo remaining in COVID purgatory.
Cassidy said he was unclear if Trent Frederic, Anton Blidh, and Swayman, all of whom tested positive just before the Dec. 16 game vs. the Islanders, would clear Canada’s more restrictive COVID protocols. He hoped to know more following a late-morning workout on Monday.
Based on Sunday’s workout, the game roster on Wednesday could have looked like this:
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk-Erik Haula-Craig Smith
Nick Foligno-Trent Frederic-Curtis Lazar
Anton Blidh-Tomas Nosek-Karson Kuhlman
Matt Grzelcyk-Charlie McAvoy
Mike Reilly-Connor Clifton
Derek Forbort-John Moore
Moore, who had been assigned to AHL Providence, looks like he could remain with the varsity for a while.
“He’s going in for Carlo,” said Cassidy, who also recently lost the services of defenseman Jakub Zboril, his season lost to knee surgery. “I would expect to see Johnny here for a stretch.”
Lazar came back earlier than expected, in part, said Cassidy, because he twice tested negative for COVID in recent days … The league on Friday night wiped out all of Monday’s schedule (14 games), including the Penguins visit to Causeway Street, thus ending the Bruins’ home schedule for the 2021 calendar year. The new year is slated to begin with a Jan. 1 matinee, 1 p.m., against the Sabres at the Garden … The league has not provided any makeup dates for the five games the Bruins already have seen go to PPD … The NHL’s holiday roster freeze is still scheduled to end at 00:01 a.m. Tuesday. Jake DeBrusk, who requested a trade at the start of December, is not expected to be dealt anytime soon, particularly given the roster challenges presented by COVID … The NHL on Sunday re-approved the use of taxi squads, leading up to the scheduled All-Star game Feb. 5 in Vegas. Clubs will be allowed to carry up to six taxi squad players, allowing for easier player replacement due to injury or illness during the ongoing COVID struggles … Regarding special teams, Cassidy said he would like to see his squad improve its zone entries when on the power play, and also do a better job of clearing pucks, “a work in progress that gets us hemmed in at times” on the penalty-killing units … Cassidy was uncertain as to the degree of changes made to the dressing room for social distancing among the players. As he noted, Swayman recently tested positive for COVID, perhaps making it a moot point to distance him from Ullmark. “I believe he’s in the clear for a while,” said Cassidy, chuckling when he noted Swayman’s return, “so maybe we want to put the goalies back together.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.