Wings place Fabbri, Rasmussen on COVID list, but game Thursday is on
Detroit — It appears the Red Wings will play at the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.
The Hurricanes have been ravaged by COVID-19, with six players and a staff member in protocol. Their game Tuesday in Minnesota was postponed because of the situation.
But the Wings suddenly have players of their own with COVID issues.
Just after Carolina announced Thursday's game was on, Detroit announced forwards Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen were placed into the NHL's COVID-19 protocol.
Coach Jeff Blashill confirmed Fabbri and Rasmussen will not be available for Thursday's game, and the Wings will call up players from Grand Rapids.
Forward Tyler Bertuzzi and defensemen Marc Staal and Danny DeKeyser came off the list in recent days after missing multiple games.
With the Hurricanes in full blown COVID difficulty, and the Wings trying to keep it under control, Blashill said there is some "trepidation" heading into Thursday's game.
The coach is optimistic medical experts are putting both teams in a proper environment.
"I'm relying on the medical experts to say that it's safe," Blashill said. "We're relying on them to be right. I certainly believe that their best intention is if they thought they were putting us in risk to spread it, we wouldn't play the game. That's the number one driver of these decisions, containing the spread of it.
"I have trepidation. I certainly don't want to see my team exposed to any more cases than we have to. But I also understand there's a balance here it's kind of the balance we've all faced. You can shut down and not do anything and not spread it, or you can try to work within the parameters and that's what we're trying to do and getting the games in and that's important, too."
The NHL and NHL players association were expected to finalize enhanced measures to combat the rapid spread of the virus recently, with increased restrictions until Jan. 7, when the issue will be revisited.
Measures will include restrictions on indoor dining while on the road, according to several reports, masking and distancing while in club facilities and daily testing, except on days off.
There will be extremely limited community interaction, and players are recommended to get booster shots (they haven't been mandated by the NHL).
Players lived with the enhanced restrictions last season, and universally said it wasn't easy and didn't want to go through it again this season for any lengthy period.
"There was a lot of hockey with that and we were playing every other day," forward Dylan Larkin said. "For us, we were up and down and lot of things were going on and the more you sit in your room and think about how it's not going well or going well, whether or not you're going to test positive the next day and how are you going to travel home or are going to have to stay in a hotel for 14 days. There's just a lot that goes through your mind when you're just sitting there.
"It wasn't very much fun and it wasn't really healthy, in my opinion."
With news of Fabbri and Rasmussen headed onto the protocol list, there's increased tension in the Wings' locker room.
"You sit next to guys in the room, and we're around each other, and we're in a sport where we're sitting on the bench next to each other," Larkin said. "We can't put masks on and take them off before we go out. Things happen too fast. It's tough in our sport to stop the spread."
Preparations for Thursday's game have been a bit fractured given the uncertain lineups. But it's a pivotal game in the standings, and Blashill will stress the importance to his team.
The game will serve as a homecoming for Wings' goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who had a superb rookie season capped by being a finalist for the Calder Trophy last season in Carolina. He was traded to the Red Wings last summer.
"I obviously played with them for a while to start my career,” Nedeljkovic said. “So hopefully they’re all doing well. Obviously they’re sick but they’re doing OK. They’re battling and nobody’s too ill.”
Nedeljkovic said he looked at the schedule when it came out to see when the Wings would face the Hurricanes.
“When the trade happened, I don’t know if the schedule had come out yet but that was the first thing I looked for was to see when we played those guys," he said. "I definitely had it circled on the calendar."
Nedeljkovic said there’s motivation to playing against Carolina.
“Any time you play a former team, a former teammate, there’s some motivation," he said. "It’s exciting. It’s a fun place to play, too. That’s a great crowd. It’s a lot of fun. It’ll be really cool to see what it’s like as a visitor."
Blashill said the Wings will recall players from Grand Rapids to replace Fabbri and Rasmussen. Jonatan Berggren will not move up.
The 2018 second-round draft pick has seven goals and nine assists for 16 points, third best in the American Hockey League.
“The last thing you want to do with a young player if he is starting to gain confidence in the American League and just starting to do those things is to bring him up and have him struggle,” Blashill said.
Larkin would be a good bet to land on Team USA for the February Winter Olympics in China.
But given the uncertainty around the NHL, and the Olympics, because of virus and the somewhat unclear regulations concerning the Olympics, Larkin is unsure about thinking too far ahead.
"There's a lot going on right now," Larkin said. "We're dealing with COVID here, we had calls (with the players association) and talks, and you guys have read the reports on what it could be like in China and that's unfortunate."
There are reports that a positive COVID case in China could force a player to remain there for up to five weeks.
"It would be very unfortunate for anyone to get stuck in quarantine for that long, and a serious unknown of when you'd come home," Larkin said. "It's unfortunate for all athletes."
Bertuzzi wasn't on the ice Wednesday, but Blashill said it was a "maintenance day" and Bertuzzi would be available to play against Carolina. So will Staal.
Red Wings at Hurricanes
►Faceoff: 7 p.m., Thursday, PNC Arena, Raleigh.
►TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
►Outlook: The Hurricanes (19-7-1) have been hit hard by COVID, and are currently missing forwards Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, Steven Lorentz, Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis, along with defenseman Ian Cole (Ann Arbor) ... This is the first game between the teams this season.