Senators decimated due to COVID as 9 players are out for upcoming game against Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster has been in flux, but it’s doubtful that their hosts Saturday, the Ottawa Senators, have much sympathy.

The Senators have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 cases. The count seems to change by the day and even by the hour, but coming out of Thursday’s 2-0 loss against the Los Angeles Kings, they were without nine players plus associate coach Jack Capuano. All are vaccinated, and all had at least some symptoms.

Senators hit hard by COVID

“There are ups and downs to a season, and this is just another challenge that brings the group together,” Ottawa center Nick Paul said. “This is a situation where the group needs to stick together and have each others’ backs, prepare for the game, put our best foot forward and work hard. We have to play as a team.”

Paul’s notion of sticking together has to be figurative at this point, given the extra precautions being taken to try to stop the spread, including things such as masking and boxed meals.

Coach D.J. Smith and some players are staying at hotels, and Smith indicated other players are separating themselves from family members at home.

“I have two young kids at home, and you can’t go home and you can’t put your kids at risk because they can’t go to school,” Smith said. “Everyone is dealing with different situations.”

Senators players out because of COVID-19, as of midday Friday, were Matt Murray, Nikita Zaitsev, Alex Formenton, Connor Brown, Austin Watson, Victor Mete, Dylan Gambrell, Josh Brown and Nick Holden, with lots of call-ups filling in.

And it’s not as if rallying around the adversity has led to winning.

Ottawa has seven points in 13 games, sitting second-to-last in the league standings, and has lost six consecutive games while scoring 11 goals in that stretch.

Penguins have their own issues

Mar 3, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Ottawa Senators defenseman Nikita Zaitsev (22) plays the puck ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the third period at PPG PAINTS Arena. Pittsburgh won 7-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, broke a two-game losing streak Thursday with a 3-2 shootout win at home against the Florida Panthers.

The Penguins have played beyond regulation in four straight games.

They aren’t in the dire straits Ottawa is in, but they still are dealing with lineup absences.

Team captain and top-line center Sidney Crosby and top-pairing defensemen Brian Dumoulin, as well as coach Mike Sullivan, are in COVID-19 protocol, and each experienced symptoms.

Crosby could come out of protocol Saturday, but it seems unlikely he will play. Pittsburgh canceled its practice Friday – the team on Saturday begins a stretch of nine games in 15 days — so there were no personnel updates.

Crosby contracted the virus after playing in just one game, Oct. 30 against New Jersey. He missed the Penguins’ first seven games after wrist surgery.

He is one of eight players on the team who are or have been in COVID-19 protocol, but it hasn’t all hit at once as with Ottawa.

Pittsburgh center Teddy Blueger said the team has filled the gaps by “staying together, picking each other up when there are mistakes. Just kind of builds our character overall as a team.”

Pittsburgh also could play Saturday without defenseman Marcus Pettersson. He made his return from a bout with COVID-19 for Thursday’s game, but he left in the first period after taking a high hit from Florida’s Owen Tippett. There has been no update on his status.

— Field Level Media