Less than 12 hours after being removed from the COVID protocol, Ottawa Senators defenseman Nikita Zaitsev was added back to it just before tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In his place, Jacob Bernard-Docker, recalled earlier today, is making his season debut.
Amazingly, the Senators have almost completely exhausted their reserve defenders. Max Guenette, the last healthy defenseman signed to an NHL contract in the minor leagues, was also recalled today, though he was reassigned before the game started. With a third of the team on the COVID protocol and Erik Brannstrom dealing with a broken hand, the Senators’ depth is being seriously tested.
In previous years losing Zaitsev might have been a big blow, but the 30-year-old defender has seen his role changed in Ottawa this year. Not only is he averaging more than five fewer minutes of ice time, but he also was scratched entirely at one point. In 11 games he has recorded just a single point, a far cry from the impressive 36-point rookie campaign he had in 2016-17 that earned him a seven-year, $31.5MM extension from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Still, healthy, eligible players are extremely valuable for the Senators right now as they try to navigate a difficult stretch. The team is now 3-9-1 on the year, not exactly the forward step they were hoping for from the young squad.