Sharks, despite COVID absences, earn inspired win: ‘I’m proud of every guy in the room’

Sharks, despite COVID absences, earn inspired win: ‘I’m proud of every guy in the room’

SAN JOSE – James Reimer said the scene around the Sharks’ dressing room in the hours before their game with the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday was both disorderly and also perhaps strangely peaceful.

“Honestly, it was a bit chaotic,” Reimer said. “But other guys were calm and kind of having fun with it. Obviously, it was kind of a wild scenario.”

The Sharks found out just hours ahead of Saturday’s game that coach Bob Boughner, four of their top six defensemen, two players from their top line, and two veteran depth forwards were all unavailable. All but one had been placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

In their stead were five call-ups from the Barracuda, the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, including four who would be making their Sharks’ debut.

Despite the upheaval, the Sharks, with a patchwork lineup of savvy veterans and fresh-faced rookies, responded with one of their most inspired efforts of the last two-plus seasons.

Timo Meier scored a power-play goal at the 1:07 mark of overtime as the Sharks pulled out a 2-1 win over the Jets before an announced crowd of 11,845 at SAP Center.

Tomas Hertl scored a second-period goal and goalie James Reimer had 34 saves as the Sharks snapped a three-game losing streak in unlikely fashion.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 30: San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer (47) protects the goal against Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (44) in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

“It was a tremendous effort, from (Reimer) all the way out there,” said Sharks assistant coach John MacLean, who ran the bench in Boughner’s absence. “Everybody had great energy and they all knew that they had to play. Everybody on the bench was lively. They were pretty much coaching themselves.”

The Sharks outshot the Jets to 27-20 through two periods before Reimer stood tall in the third with 14 saves. Kyle Connor scored with 3:12 left in regulation time to tie the game 1-1 and help send it to overtime.

But with Nikolaj Ehlers serving an interference penalty, Meier took a pass from Kevin Labanc and fired a shot that beat Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who had 34 saves in the loss.

“It was a crazy day but a big game for us,” Hertl said. “I’m proud of every guy in the room right now.”

The Sharks have the day off Sunday and are scheduled to practice Monday and host the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

Boughner, forwards Andrew Cogliano, Jonathan Dahlen and Matt Nieto, and defensemen Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Radim Simek, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were all placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol on Saturday — and could miss more time.

A Sharks spokesman said some of the individuals were symptomatic, although not all. The team would not specify who those individuals were.

San Jose Sharks right wing Timo Meier (28) breaks away ahead of Winnipeg Jets left wing Evgeny Svechnikov (71) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

Sharks captain Logan Couture was ill and also missed the game but was not in COVID protocol, according to the team. Noah Gregor, a member of the AHL’s Barracuda, was also placed in the league’s protocol.

The absences meant wholesale changes to the Sharks’ lineup, including two brand new defense pairs.

Jaycob Megna played with his usual defense partner with the Barracuda, Ryan Merkley, and Nicolas Meloche was partnered with Santeri Hatakka. Ryan Merkley, the Sharks’ first-round pick in 2018, and Hatakka, a 2019 sixth-round pick, made their NHL debuts.

Megna, Merkley, and Meloche, and forwards Nick Merkley and John Leonard were all recalled Saturday. Nick Merkley was on a line with Lane Pederson and Jonah Gadjovich and Leonard was with Labanc and Jasper Weatherby.

The game marked just the sixth game in Sharks history in which at least 16 players were age 25 or younger.

So the Sharks leaned on their more experienced players. Both Brent Burns and Mario Ferraro, the Sharks’ top defense pair, played over 28 and 25 minutes, respectively.

Hertl played over 21 minutes and formed the top line with Meier and Alexander Barabanov, and Nick Bonino skated with William Eklund and Rudolfs Balcers.

The game’s start time was pushed back from 4 to 4:30 p.m. as the Sharks had to complete, and then analyze, test results in advance of the game.

There was also perhaps a question as to whether the game would even be played.

“Just 45 minutes before the game, we were not sure if we were even playing or not,” Hertl said.

“But it was like. ‘we’re all here, we’re together, we still can get two points.’”

The Sharks took warmups without having a team meeting.

“It was more individual,” MacLean said. “John Madden was a huge help.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 30: San Jose Sharks celebrate after scoring a goal in overtime to beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

“(Boughner) implemented this system. They all went through it during training camp. Very focused, very detailed on his plan for how we play, and then I thought they all brought energy, which was nice to see. The leadership group stepped up and helped me along, which is always great.”

MacLean and the other coaches spoke with Boughner after the game.

“He’s excited for us,” MacLean said. “As we all know, it’s always easier when you’re in the action than watching the action. So he got a different view there. He said he was proud of everybody.”

“Especially after three losses,” Hertl said. “To come here, we don’t really have half of our roster and we get a win. It’s big. I’m just happy with what everybody in the room did tonight.”

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