TAMPA — Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney became the first Lightning player to land on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Saturday.
The move doesn’t necessarily mean McElhinney tested positive for the coronavirus. It means he was not available to practice on that specific day for one of a variety of reasons, which also include receiving an unconfirmed positive test being or being placed in quarantine as a high-risk close contact of someone who did test positive.
The league does not release the precise reason why players are on the list or how long they might be out. Players were tested every day during training camp. They are getting tested every day for the first four weeks of the season, and then depending on the situation, it could go to every 48 hours.
McElhinney dressed and was on the bench during Friday’s win against the Blackhawks at Amalie Arena. Christopher Gibson, who is on the taxi squad, would replace McElhinney on the active roster if McElhinney can’t suit up for the foreseeable future. The Lightning’s next scheduled game is Thursday at Columbus.
The Lightning didn’t practice Saturday.
They are also not slated to practice Sunday. Taking two straight days off is unusual for any season, even considering the Lightning are scheduled to have a five-day break between games. After McElhinney landed on the COVID-19 protocol list, it appears the team is taking an extra day off in an abundance of caution because it can.
On Thursday, Lightning coach Jon Cooper was asked whether he would consider separating his two goaltenders to ensure the team always has one healthy, a practice the Bruins have adopted this season.
“Just on the practicality side of things … I think if one guy in your team is going to have (the coronavirus), my assumption is everybody’s going to be separated or everybody’s going to have to go in and quarantine,” Cooper said. “So I don’t know if separating two guys, if that’s the case, then we should just social distance on the bench and social distance on the ice. It’s hard to fathom if one or two players get it on a team that everybody doesn’t get shut down.
“You have to have trust in your players. And we have to implement strategies and ways so guys are not co-mingling with the general public on a daily basis, just because we need to keep ourselves out of the situation so we can continue to play.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
• • •