Blue Jackets game Tuesday against Blackhawks postponed

NHL cites 'COVID-19 reasons' for suspension of fifth game for Columbus, which still has six players on the league's expanding protocols list.

Brian Hedger
The Columbus Dispatch
The Blue Jackets practiced Sunday, but had games scheduled for Monday (against the Maple Leafs) and Tuesday (at the Blackhawks) postponed due to COVID-19.

The Blue Jackets will go at least two weeks between games after the NHL postponed another one Sunday night due to COVID-19 concerns. 

A game scheduled for Tuesday against the Blackhawks in Chicago was one of three wiped off the league’s schedule for that night in a decision announced with a late-night news release that also included a list of COVID-19-related, temporary changes to the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association. 

It’s the fifth straight game the Blue Jackets have had postponed since losing 5-2 to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 16 at Rogers Place to conclude what ended up as a three-game road trip. It was originally going to be a five-game trip, the longest of the Blue Jackets' season, but the league’s widespread COVID-19 outbreak postponed a game Dec. 18 in Calgary and the finale Dec. 20 in Buffalo. 

The NHL also postponed a rematch against the Buffalo Sabres scheduled for Dec. 23 in Columbus and a game that was slated for Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena. The decision to postpone the game in Chicago likely stems from the Blue Jackets’ situation coming out of a league-mandated shutdown that began last Monday, when the team’s protocols list grew to six players with the addition of goalie Joonas Korpisalo, forward Eric Robinson and defenseman Andrew Peeke. 

Those three plus captain Boone Jenner, center Jack Roslovic and defenseman Gabriel Carlsson are still undergoing isolation for COVID-19 and were unavailable for the team’s first practice Sunday since the game in Edmonton 10 days earlier. Veteran forward Jakub Voracek also left practice early with a physical issue that will be re-assessed before a scheduled practice Monday and rookie center Cole Sillinger appeared to be in discomfort from an unknown issue throughout practice Sunday. 

Even if Voracek and Sillinger were available, the Blue Jackets faced some major hurdles going into the game against the Blackhawks, who currently have just one player on the league’s protocols list. Jenner and Roslovic are two of the Jackets’ top four centers, Korpisalo is one of the top two goalies and the defensemen who are out — Peeke and Carlsson — were among the team’s top six prior to the shutdown. 

That’s a lot of lineup spots to replace, even with the NHL’s temporary addition of a six-man taxi squad through each team’s final game before the All-Star break Feb. 4-5 in Las Vegas. The Blue Jackets’ long time away from the ice might also have led to the postponement, which will now provide four days of practice plus a morning skate Thursday before facing Nashville, assuming that game isn’t postponed. 

Practice Sunday was difficult on legs and lungs after such a long pause in the Jackets’ schedule and the timing of passes and shots was far from peak performance. Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen lamented his team’s challenge of having to prepare for action with just two days of practice coming off such a long layoff. 

“It’s unchartered territory here,” Larsen said. “I’ve been part of Olympic breaks before and you’d have eight or nine or maybe 10 days off, but then you’d have probably eight or nine days of practices (before returning). This is … we’re 10 days off and we’re trying to get these guys up to speed in two days. So, there’s a huge challenge to that.” 

Now the Jackets have a little more time, even though it’s still about half the time Larsen mentioned for prior regular-season pauses. That’s a slight bit of good news to go with the fact that Sunday’s restart of COVID-19 testing following the shutdown didn’t turn up a single new positive result. 

“It was two days there (last week) where we got hit pretty hard and you’re just kind of crossing your fingers here every day after that (with) the testing,” Larsen said. “So, we just hope that it stops where it does, and we can get healthy here.” 

The Blue Jackets are slated to practice again Monday and will likely take advantage of the additional days this week to get players back into game condition before Thursday’s game.  

According to multiple reports Sunday, the NHL added up to 44 more players to its protocols list, which now includes every team in the league except for the Minnesota Wild. More players are expected to be added Monday after confirmation results arrive based off Sunday test results. 

The NHL has cited the recent rise of the highly transmissible Omicron virus variant as a factor in its current outbreak, which began around Dec. 13 and quickly spread throughout the vast majority of the league’s 32 teams. All three teams the Blue Jackets played on their last road trip dressed players who tested positive either the same day or within 48 hours following the game. 

The league’s isolation period calls for 10 days of quarantine unless individuals are able to test out of it through multiple consecutive tests. All players returning from COVID-19 infections must also pass a cardiac screening before gaining clearance to rejoin hockey activities. All six Blue Jackets players on the list could potentially return later this week, possibly as early as Wednesday. 


Get more Columbus Blue Jackets news by listening to our podcasts