The Sharks will be happy to see coach Bob Boughner and the seven players who have been in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol return Friday for a scheduled team practice in Denver.
Although the Sharks have held their own without the group, going 3-1-1 entering Thursday’s game with the Winnipeg Jets, the question now is whether anything more can be done to prevent a similar outbreak from happening in the future.
The Sharks, who said last month that they are fully vaccinated, started to hold meetings in smaller groups after a handful of players landed in the protocol on Oct. 30. The NHL also requires that team personnel wear face coverings when inside team facilities or team spaces — other than while actively exercising or playing or while actively eating or drinking.
But there also seems to be a feeling that perhaps teams can’t always prevent these things from occurring, especially with players and coaches in close quarters on charter flights and locker rooms.
“I think we’re always doing what we can to stay safe, wearing masks in public and doing what we can,” Sharks defenseman Mario Ferraro said Thursday morning. “But sometimes things happen. It was unfortunate but hopefully, we can stay as safe and secure as possible and limit the spread.
“But it happens. This is part of the world we live in. Just got to stay safe.”
Boughner said Wednesday there have been no definitive conclusions made by the team on how the breakout might have originated.
The Sharks returned from a five-game road trip through Eastern Canada, Boston, and Nashville just days before the COVID cases arose and players — unlike last season — are permitted to spend time in public and away from their hotel rooms and the arenas if they are fully vaccinated.
“Guys take the precautions and do the right thing, which is great,” Sharks assistant coach John MacLean said. “But sometimes it still happens, and then you’ve just got to manage it from there.”
Certainly, the Sharks are not the only NHL team dealing with COVID cases right now.
The Pittsburgh Penguins originally had eight players, including Sidney Crosby, and coach Mike Sullivan in the protocol, although they seem to be turning a corner for the better as defensemen Chad Ruhwedel and Marcus Pettersson were potentially available to play Thursday
The Ottawa Senators’ COVID numbers, though, are on the rise.
On Wednesday, the Senators canceled their scheduled practice and closed their arena, the Canadian Tire Centre, as defenseman Josh Brown became the sixth player placed into the COVID-19 protocol
Thursday, the team also placed forward Alex Formenton and goaltender Matt Murray in the protocol. As of midday Thursday, Ottawa’s scheduled game with the Los Angeles Kings was still scheduled to take place.
“We’ve managed as well as we can so far and we’re hoping to get guys back on Friday and go from there,” MacLean said. “But this situation isn’t just unique to us. It just happened to us right now, so we’re hoping the worst is behind us and we can move forward.”
MacLean said to his knowledge, Boughner, defensemen Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Radim Simek, and Jake Middleton were scheduled to skate Thursday before they flew to Colorado. The Sharks play the Avalanche on Saturday in the third game of their five-game road trip.
“It’s unfortunate what happened. We definitely miss the guys, miss being around them, and feel bad that they couldn’t be at the rink with us the last 10 days,” Ferraro said. “But we’re excited to see them again.”
THURSDAY’S GAME: MacLean said aside from inserting goalie James Reimer for Adin Hill, the Sharks are not making any lineup changes for Thursday’s game. Reimer, a native of Arborg, Manitoba, about an hour’s drive north of Winnipeg, stopped 34 of 35 shots in the Sharks’ 2-1 overtime win over the Jets on Oct. 30.
Hill stopped 37 of 38 shots in the Sharks’ win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. The Sharks, as of Thursday morning, had a team save percentage of .916, tied for eighth-best in the NHL.