The news just keeps getting worse for the Bruins and the National Hockey League in general.
With Brad Marchand and Craig Smith already placed in COVID protocol on Tuesday, Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron also entered the protocol on Wednesday with the team heading off for a three-game road trip to Long Island, Montreal and Ottawa.
As of now, it’s full steam ahead on the trip, though the Bruins have discussed one change in plans. Coach Bruce Cassidy said they could be staying overnight in New York on Thursday and traveling to Montreal on Friday to lessen the time spent in Canada. If a member of the club’s traveling party tests positive in Canada, they would be stuck there for a 14-day quarantine.
The spread is growing across the league, In Calgary, where the Bruins played last Saturday night, the Flames added 17 cases to their growing protocol list. The Nashville Predators had 12 players and staffers go into protocol. There’s little doubt that more will be popping up in the coming days.
The good news for the B’s is that Marchand and Smith appear to be asymptomatic, according to Taylor Hall, who said both players were feeling fine after the Bruins’ loss to Vegas on Tuesday. There was no word on Bergeron’s condition yet.
But you could see how losing your top players for a critical stretch before the holiday break, not to mention the looming talk of a shutdown, would eat away at the laser focus athletes need to have.
Coach Bruce Cassidy said it’s just something they have to fight through.
“This is their job. They’ve got to be prepared to go to work,” said Cassidy, who just came out of the protocol himself on Monday. “I’ll say this. No one wants to get stuck somewhere for two weeks, especially over Christmas, guys with families. To me, that would be the biggest worry. As for the shutdown and different cases, guys have been dealing with it for two full years now. It’s there, it’s real, I just lived. I know some other players have. Will that solve the problem if you shut down for two weeks? Will you go through the same thing again in another month? Those are things that go through your head, but at the end of the day you’ve got to focus on the task at hand. Do your best to stay within the protocols and stay healthy.
“That’s the other thing. The more you’re staying out of crowds and away from opportunities where you will get infected, you’ve got to be smart in those areas as best you can. Some people still catch when you do that, so that’s a bit of a tough one at times. But at the end of the day, this is our job, we have to be prepared to do it. That’s the way we’re going to approach today, tomorrow and the next day until we’re told differently.”
Unless there is a postponement of the weekend’s games in Montreal and Ottawa, the risk of testing positive and having to stay there for two weeks is just something players and staff will have to live with.
“I guess it’s not an ideal situation, but at some point you’ve got to do what you can to (mitigate) the spread as much as you can and hope for the best, really,” said Charlie Coyle. “It’s not ideal, but that’s what we’re working with here. I hope it doesn’t happen but we’ll see what happens.”
Coyle said there is experience to draw from in dealing with the current uncertainty.
“We went through this with the whole bubble and all that. It was a crazy experience and a lot of unexpected things that could pop up,” said Coyle. “That’s kind of just expecting the unexpected. That way, nothing’s too surprising and you just adapt to it. That’s what we have to do.”
With half of their top six on the shelf, the Bruins will obviously be at a competitive disadvantage. But they won’t be getting much sympathy from the Islanders, who dealt with numerous COVID cases before the league eventually postponed some games. Considered one of the Eastern Conference favorites to start the season, the Islanders’ record now sits at 7-12-5.
The league does not have a set number of players in protocol that would trigger postponements but rather it considers multiple factors. But at the moment — and we do mean moment — it doesn’t appear the Bruins will be getting a gift of a rain check.
“I think the league obviously measures some of that stuff and makes a determination. I don’t think three players is enough, personally,” said Cassidy, who did not practice his team at all on Wednesday. “We’re going and we have to be prepared to play. It’s opportunity for other players.
“A good team defense can carry you a long way. That’s been a trademark of our team, typically. That’s something we have to rely and hope, with extra minutes, guys are able to produce enough. It happened in Calgary.”
We got some goals from the fourth line the other night. It’s there, the ability to score. It’s obviously a little more difficult in a situation like (Tuesday). You don’t want to get behind.”
The current situation should give some players a chance to establish some traction. Jack Studnicka and Oskar Steen were called up to go on the trip. Studnicka, the centerman for whom the B’s had high hopes, in particular could benefit from some consistent playing time. His play has been “uneven” in Providence, but he had a strong training camp.
“To have some young legs come in when you’re lacking that bit of juice is not a bad thing,” said Cassidy. “They’ve just got to be ready to play.”
For better or worse, opportunity is knocking.