SAN JOSE – James Reimer said the scene around the Sharks’ locker room in the hours leading up to their game with the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday was both messy and perhaps also eerily peaceful.
“Honestly, it was a bit chaotic,” Reimer said. “But the other guys were calm and having fun with it. Obviously, it was kind of a wild scenario.
The Sharks discovered hours before Saturday’s game that coach Bob Boughner, four of their top six defensemen, two from their first line and two veterans in depth were unavailable. All but one had been placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
In their place, five calls from Barracuda, the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, four of which would make their debut with the Sharks.
Despite the upheaval, the Sharks, with a patchwork lineup of savvy veterans and fresh-faced rookies, have responded with one of their most inspired efforts of the past two and more seasons.
Timo Meier scored a power-play goal at 1:07 into overtime as the Sharks won a 2-1 victory over the Jets in front of an announced crowd of 11,845 at the SAP Center.
Tomas Hertl scored in the second period and goaltender James Reimer made 34 saves as the Sharks ended an unlikely three-game losing streak.
“It was a huge effort from (Reimer) all the way,” said Sharks assistant coach John MacLean, who led the bench in Boughner’s absence. “Everyone had great energy and they all knew they had to play. Everyone on the bench was busy. They practiced pretty much on their own.
The Sharks outscored the Jets at 27-20 in two periods before Reimer stood out 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 him into overtime.
But with Nikolaj Ehlers serving an interference penalty, Meier took a pass from Kevin Labanc and unleashed a shot that beat Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who made 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 are off Sunday and are expected to practice Monday and host the Buffalo Sabers 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 run out of time .
A spokesperson for the Sharks said some of the people were symptomatic, but not all. The team did not specify who these people were.
Sharks captain Logan Couture was ill and also missed the game but was not in COVID protocol, according to the team. AHL Barracuda member Noah Gregor has also been placed in league protocol.
The absences have resulted in significant changes to the Sharks’ roster, including two new pairs of defenses.
Jaycob Megna has played with his usual defense partner with the Barracuda, Ryan Merkley, and Nicolas Meloche has been teamed up with Santeri Hatakka. Ryan Merkley, the Sharks’ 2018 first-round pick, and Hatakka, a 2019 sixth-round pick, made their NHL debuts.
Megna, Merkley and Meloche, as well as forwards Nick Merkley and John Leonard were all recalled on Saturday. Nick Merkley was on a line with Lane Pederson and Jonah Gadjovich and Leonard was with Labanc and Jasper Weatherby.
The game was only the sixth game in Sharks history in which at least 16 players were 25 or under.
The Sharks therefore relied on their more experienced players. Brent Burns and Mario Ferraro, the Sharks’ top defensive pair, played 28 and 25 minutes, respectively.
Hertl played over 21 minutes and formed the front row with Meier and Alexander Barabanov, and Nick Bonino skated with William Eklund and Rudolfs Balcers.
The start time of the game was pushed back from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. as the Sharks had to complete and then analyze the test results before the game.
There was also perhaps a question of whether the game would even be played.
“Just 45 minutes before the game, we didn’t even know whether we were playing or not,” Hertl said.
“But it was like. ‘we are all here, we are together, we can still score two points.’
The Sharks took warm-ups without having a team meeting.
“It was more individual,” said MacLean. “John Madden has been a great help.”
“(Boughner) implemented this system. They’ve all been there during training camp. Very focused, very detailed on his plan for the way we play, and then I thought they all brought energy, which was nice to see. The management group has stepped up and helped me out, which is always great.
MacLean and the other coaches chatted with Boughner after the game.
“He’s excited for us,” said MacLean. “As we all know, it’s always easier when you’re in the action than it is to watch the action. So he has a different point of view there. He said he was proud of everyone.
“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 everyone in the room did tonight.