NHL Buzz: Bjorkstrand leaves protocol, expected to play for Blue Jackets

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Columbus Blue Jackets

Oliver Bjorkstrand is out of NHL COVID-19 protocol and the forward is expected to play against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; BSOH, BSSUN, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).

Bjorkstrand practiced Monday. He missed two games since entering protocol Dec. 27.

“He’s missed a lot of time so there’s going to be a lot of rust for him to kick off,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said.

Bjorkstrand said Monday he was asymptomatic.

“I didn’t know if I was going to get any symptoms, so I slowly started working out, just trying to do small things that can help me prepare myself for coming back here,” Bjorkstrand said.

Zach Werenski tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and the Blue Jackets are awaiting further testing. If the defenseman has two negative results, he will be cleared.

Elvis Merzlikins has lower-body discomfort, Larsen said. The goalie collided with Columbus forward Jakub Voracek trying to get to the bench for an extra skater against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. Larsen said he isn’t sure if that caused the injury, or if Merzlikins wasn’t properly warmed up to start the third period after Daniil Tarasov exited with a lower-body injury.

“It’s really irrelevant when it happened or why,” Larsen said. “But hopefully he’ll be right and ready for tomorrow.”

Goalie Joonas Korpisalo cleared protocol Dec. 30 but did not dress the past two games. He practiced Monday. — Craig Merz

Ottawa Senators

Thomas Chabot, Zach Sanford and Chris Tierney were placed in NHL COVID-19 protocol by the Senators on Monday.

Chabot, a defenseman, has scored 17 points (one goal, 16 assists) in 29 games, and leads the NHL with an average ice time of 27:13 per game.

“It’s a huge loss for us, but teams lose guys all the time,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said. “That’s how you find out what you have.”

Tierney and Sanford, each a forward, join forwards Josh Norris, Tyler Ennis and Nick Paul, and defensemen Jacob Bernard-Docker and Dillon Heatherington in protocol.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was recalled from Belleville of the American Hockey League and forward Scott Sabourin was added to the taxi squad.

“We are confident in our group, but we are missing a lot of key guys,” Ottawa captain Brady Tkachuk told TSN 1200. “So all we can do is be ready to go and it’s a next man up mentality.”

The Senators will practice Wednesday. Their game against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday was postponed because of COVID-19 related issues. Ottawa is scheduled to visit the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Auston Matthews and assistant Dean Chynoweth were not at practice Monday for precautionary reasons after the results of their rapid COVID-19 tests came back positive.

“No symptoms for either guy but they both tested positive on their rapid test here this morning,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We’ll await the results from their PCR, which won’t come in until tomorrow morning. There have been some instances where the rapid positives have been false. So it’s just precautionary for today, but we will get confirmation in the morning.”

Matthews has scored a Maple Leafs high 20 goals in 28 games. His 33 points are tied with William Nylander for the team lead.

Captain John Tavares replaced Matthews at center with left wing Michael Bunting and right wing Mitchell Marner. Alexander Kerfoot was the center between left wing Ilya Mikheyev and Nylander.

Defenseman Jake Muzzin, who exited COVID-19 protocol on Friday but did not play in a 6-0 win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, skated with Justin Holl and is expected to play against the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, SN, NHL LIVE, ESPN+).

Defenseman Timothy Liljegren exited protocol and skated on an extra pair with Alex Biega. He said he was asymptotic. — Dave McCarthy

Philadelphia Flyers

Carter Hart could start for the Flyers against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; SN, BSSC, BSSD, NBCSP, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).

The goalie has missed four games, one with the flu and three after going into NHL COVID-19 protocol Dec. 27. He was removed from protocol Saturday.

“My initial conversation with him was that he’s feeling good,” Flyers coach Mike Yeo said. “We wanted to make sure we get through practice, see how he does coming off the ice. 

“I expect him to be in the lineup and I would say there’s a decent chance he’s the starter for tomorrow but want to make sure that when he gets off the ice, have another conversation with him and see how he feels.”

Hart said the flu hit him hard but that he had very mild COVID-19 symptoms.

“I feel good now,” he said. “It’s nice to be back with the boys. Sitting in your apartment all day isn’t a lot of fun. … Felt good on the ice today, was nice to get on. Haven’t touched the ice in a while. Had to shake the rust off and it was good to get back in the mix with the boys.”

Hart is 7-8-4 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 19 games.

Forward Scott Laughton also exited protocol Saturday and will play Tuesday. Forward Derick Brassard also left but did not join the Flyers in California, as was expected. He has missed 14 of the 15 games with a hip injury, and Yeo said the Flyers decided to have him continue his rehabilitation at home.

Forward Jackson Cates and defenseman Nick Seeler were placed in COVID-19 protocol Monday, along with one staff member. — Adam Kimelman

New York Rangers

Ryan Lindgren and Kevin Rooney each has cleared NHL COVID-19 protocol and could be available against the Edmonton Oilers (7 p.m. ET; SN1, SNW, TVAS, MSG, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).

Lindgren, a defenseman, entered protocol Dec. 27 and Rooney, a forward, the next day. Each has missed three games. 

Forward Artemi Panarin was placed in protocol Sunday and missed a 4-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He leads the Rangers with 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 31 games this season.

“When he’s been out a couple games here and there … you’ve got to step up,” New York center Mika Zibanejad said Sunday after getting a hat trick. “He scores goals and makes a lot of things in the offensive zone happen. When a guy like that is out, you just want everyone to chip in a little bit more.”

Forward Tim Gettinger was assigned to the taxi squad.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks canceled a practice scheduled for Monday after forwards Nicolas Deslauriers and Derek Grant, and a team staff member, were placed in COVID-19 protocol, joining captain Ryan Getzlaf and rookie forward Trevor Zegras.

Forward Max Comtois was removed from protocol Sunday. He had an assist in a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

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