The Sharks will be happy to see coach Bob Boughner and the seven players who served on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol again Friday for a scheduled team training session in Denver.
While the Sharks have managed to hold their own without the group and go into Thursday’s game 3-1-1 with the Winnipeg Jets, the question now is whether anything more can be done to prevent a similar outbreak in the future.
The Sharks, who said they have been fully vaccinated last month, began holding meetings in smaller groups after a handful of players landed in protocol on Oct. 30. The NHL also requires team personnel to wear face coverings when in team facilities or areas — other than while actively playing sports or playing or while actively eating or drinking.
But there also seems to be a sense that teams may not always be able to prevent these things from happening, especially with players and coaches close by on charter flights and locker rooms.
“I think we always do what we can to stay safe, wear masks in public and do what we can,” Sharks defender Mario Ferraro said Thursday morning. “But sometimes things happen. It was unfortunate, but hopefully we can stay as safe as possible and limit the spread.
“But it happens. This is part of the world we live in. We just have to stay safe.’
Boughner said on Wednesday that no firm conclusions have been drawn by the team about how the outbreak might have started.
The Sharks returned from a five-game road trip through Eastern Canada, Boston and Nashville just days before the COVID cases kicked in and players — unlike last season — are allowed to spend time in public and away from their hotel rooms and the arenas if they are fully vaccinated.
“Guys are taking the precautions and doing the right thing, which is great,” said Sharks assistant coach John MacLean. “But sometimes it still happens, and then you just have to sort it out from there.”
The Sharks aren’t the only NHL team currently dealing with COVID cases.
The Pittsburgh Penguins originally had eight players, including Sidney Crosby, and coach Mike Sullivan on protocol, though they appear to be turning a corner for the better as defenders Chad Ruhwedel and Marcus Pettersson may be available to play Thursday.
However, the Ottawa senators’ COVID numbers are on the rise.
On Wednesday, the senators canceled their scheduled training and closed their arena, the Canadian Tire Center, as defenseman Josh Brown became the sixth player to be placed under COVID-19 protocol.
On Thursday, the team also placed attacker Alex Formenton and goalkeeper Matt Murray in the protocol. On Thursday afternoon, Ottawa’s scheduled game against the Los Angeles Kings was still on the program.
“We’ve done the best we can so far and we hope to get the guys back on Friday and go from there,” MacLean said. “But this situation is not just unique to us. It just happened to us, so we hope the worst is over and we can move forward.”
MacLean said to his knowledge that Boughner, defenders Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Radim Simek and Jake Middleton would skate Thursday before flying to Colorado. The Sharks will face the Avalanche on Saturday in the third game of their five-game road trip.
“It’s a shame what happened. We absolutely miss the guys, miss being around them and feel bad they couldn’t be with us at the rink for the past 10 days,” Ferraro said. “But we’re excited to see them again.”
THURSDAY GAME: MacLean said that aside from bringing in goalkeeper James Reimer for Adin Hill, the Sharks are not making any lineup changes for Thursday’s game. Reimer, a resident of Arborg, Manitoba, about an hour’s drive north of Winnipeg, stopped 34 of 35 shots in the Sharks’ 2-1 win over the Jets on Oct. 30.
Hill stopped 37 of 38 shots on Tuesday in the Sharks’ victory over the Calgary Flames. The Sharks had a team saving percentage of 0.916 on Thursday morning, finishing in eighth place in the NHL.