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League refuses to delay games for covid ravaged senators

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Despite nine players in COVID-19 protocol and the club’s lineup also ravaged by a growing number of injuries, the Senators will close out this home stand with back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and the Calgary Flames on Sunday at the Canadian Tire Centre, as the NHL is unwilling to shut down the Senators.


The Penguins have had COVID-19 concerns of their own and will likely be without captain Sidney Crosby.


The good news is the Senators didn’t place any more players into protocol on Friday. That’s the first time in five days that’s happened, so maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel.


The league instructed the Senators to cancel practice for the third time this week on Friday to try to stop the spread of the virus. Despite efforts by the Senators to have games postponed until several players have the ability to get back on their feet, it doesn’t appear the NHL is in any mood to make changes.


The indication is that, as much as the NHL head office has sympathy for the club’s situation, the league doesn’t want to reschedule games unless the Senators have almost no players left to recall.


Nikita Zaitsev was added to the list of players on COVID protocol that includes Austin Watson, Matt Murray, Dylan Gambrell, Connor Brown, Alex Formenton, Victor Mete, Josh Brown and Nick Holden, along with associate coach Jack Capuano.


The Senators learned of Zaitsev’s positive test 40 minutes before the their 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He’ll likely have another two tests to confirm he’s positive. Brown and Gambrell weren’t confirmed positive until they had two more tests, so we’ll see where this goes with Zaitsev, Murray and Formenton.


The good news is Watson, the first player to enter protocol, can rejoin the team Wednesday.


Until there’s four days without a staff member or player being found positive with COVID-19, the Senators are being tested daily at the rink. Veteran defenceman Michael Del Zotto told TSN’s Claire Hanna after the first period against the Kings that players were tested twice on game day because of the way the virus is spreading.


Already short on the blue line with Zaitsev, Holden, Mete and Josh Brown out, the Senators then lost Artem Zub early in the game to an upper-body injury. His status for the game against the Penguins isn’t known — since there wasn’t a skate, we’ll have to see which defencemen are on the ice on Saturday to see who’s available.


After calling up Dillon Heatherington and Lassi Thomson to suit up against the Kings, the Senators have only three defencemen left in the organization that are under contract. Only Belleville’s Jacob Bernard-Docker and Max Guenette are eligible to be recalled because the only other blue-liner available, Jonathan Aspirot, is injured.


Belleville was so desperate for help it had to sign defencemen Cody Goloubef and Chaz Reddekopp to 25-game tryouts Friday. The club will also play back-to-back games this weekend.


The NHL has been reticent to postpone games because of the compressed schedule and the fact the league wants players to be at the Olympics in Beijing in February. The San Jose Sharks just released seven players and four staff members — including head coach Bob Boughner — from COVID-19 protocol on Friday.


The feeling has always been the league doesn’t want to postpone games for teams experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks because they don’t want to set a precedent. It’s believed the Senators have told the league they’d just like the opportunity to stop the spread, but it appears to be falling on deaf ears at the league level.


Thursday’s game went ahead because the Kings were in town, they wanted to play the game and Los Angeles doesn’t make another trip to eastern Canada again this season. While the Kings will play the Western Canadian teams, getting them back to Ottawa again this year would have caused some difficulty with the schedule.


Health and safety has to be the first priority, but clearly the NHL isn’t concerned about possible spread to opponents. If it was, it wouldn’t allow these games to continue. Still, if the club’s four home dates and road game in the next week had to be rescheduled, there are days available in the coming months to make it feasible.


The Senators are quite rightfully concerned about their ability to compete, but they put their best foot forward against the Kings.


Give the Senators credit — they did everything they could to keep the Kings at bay, and if Ottawa had gotten a bounce or two, the result may have been different. But when the Senators look back at this stretch at the end of the season, they’ll wonder what would have happened if this outbreak hadn’t taken place.


The task doesn’t get any easier with the Penguins coming to town, but the NHL wants the Senators to keep on playing.


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