PITTSBURGH — Penguins defenseman Kris Letang has entered the NHL's COVID-19 protocol and will not be available for Saturday night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, coach Mike Sullivan announced.
Letang received a positive test result. As of Saturday morning, the club was still in the process of additional testing in order to confirm or debunk that initial test, as is detailed in the NHL protocol. It's too soon to say if it is a false positive or in fact a confirmed positive.
"Until we get those back, we can't definitively say for sure about where he's at," Sullivan said.
The Penguins, thanks to a cautious approach and a bit of good fortune, went through the entirety of the 2020-21 season without an in-season positive result. However, just a handful of games into the season, the virus has become an issue.
Letang, a six-time all-star, marks the third Penguins player to enter the COVID protocol this week. Center Jeff Carter and goalie Tristan Jarry both missed Thursday's practice due to virus concerns. Subsequent testing confirmed Carter's positive result. While he remains asymptomatic, he's now completing his isolation process.
Meanwhile, Jarry's result was just a false positive. He returned to practice on Friday and is scheduled to start in net against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Earlier in the year, Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel were sidelined with positive COVID-19 cases that delayed their regular-season debuts. All of the Penguins players are fully vaccinated at this point, so all of the confirmed positive results can be considered breakthrough cases.
Through four games, Letang has recorded four assists, no goals and a minus-2 rating. His absence leaves a hole on the top defensive pairing and the top power-play unit.
With Letang sidelined, the three right-handed defensemen currently on the NHL roster are John Marino, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman, who is coming back from a lower-body injury. Sullivan confirmed that Friedman will be available on Saturday night. Marino would be a likely candidate to move into the top pairing. Lefty Mike Matheson, as one of the team's most offensively included blue liners, could get a chance to quarterback the top power play.
Sullivan said he also plans to speak with general manager Ron Hextall. The coach anticipates a player will be called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to add more reinforcements to a defensive corps that currently includes just six able athletes, the bare minimum necessary to fill out a game-day lineup.