One Sharks player exits NHL COVID protocol, but another is added

SAN JOSE – Defenseman Brent Burns exited the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol as expected Monday but the Sharks still have the same number of players who remain unavailable.

Goalie Adin Hill was added to the league’s protocol, the Sharks announced, leaving the number of unavailable players at four. The Sharks are still without forwards Tomas Hertl and Jonathan Dahlen, who entered protocol on Dec. 21, and center Jasper Weatherby, who entered the AHL’s COVID protocol the following day.

The Sharks also announced that a still-unnamed staff member, who entered protocol with Hertl and Dahlen last week, remains away from the team.

As of Monday, the Sharks’ game with the Arizona Coyotes at SAP Center on Tuesday night was still scheduled to be played.

Hill’s absence will surely increase the workload for James Reimer, who enters Tuesday’s game with a sparkling .936 save percentage and a 1.99 goals-against average. To replace Hill on the roster, the Sharks brought up Zach Sawchenko from the Barracuda. Sawchenko has never started an NHL regular-season game.

Reimer has a 9-5-1 record with one shutout in 16 games this season. He played five straight games from Nov. 22-30, going 4-1-0 with a .924 save percentage in that time.

Asymptomatic NHL players who initially test positive for the coronavirus can leave protocol by producing a series of negative tests. Otherwise, players can exit if at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, and at least 24 hours have passed since their last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and other symptoms have improved.

Starting with the game against the Coyotes, the Sharks are scheduled to play five times in the next 10 days. They host Philadelphia on Thursday, then play in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Buffalo on Jan. 2, 4, and 6, respectively.

Between players in protocol and injuries to other forwards, the Sharks right now are trying to piece together four forward lines.

For the Sharks’ second-straight practice, Alexander Barabanov on Monday remained in Dahlen’s spot on the Sharks’ top line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier, and Nick Bonino centered the second line, replacing Hertl. Bonino’s wingers Monday were Noah Gregor and Matt Nieto.

Lane Pederson will center the Sharks’ third line with Andrew Cogliano on one of the wings, and it appears the Sharks’ fourth line for Tuesday will feature Nick Merkley, Jeffrey Viel, and Jonah Gadjovich.

“We’re trying to place guys in roles to succeed here,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said, “and try to get the best out of them.”

The Sharks, already starved for goals, are also without injured forwards Rudolfs Balcers and Kevin Labanc. Balcers (lower body) could return in early January, but Labanc (shoulder) is projected to be out until March.

The Sharks rank 27th in the 32-team NHL with an average of 2.60 goals per game.

“We have good structure, but we need to find ways to score,” Boughner said. “Sometimes that means committing a little more to the little things — hitting the net, being in front.”

Boughner said players and other staff members took their COVID tests at SAP Center on Monday morning and then had to wait at Sharks Ice for individual results before they could be let into the building.

As of Monday morning, there were over 150 players and coaches around the NHL in COVID protocol and the Coyotes alone had six players out at that time — Lawson Crouse, Jay Beagle, Alex Galchenyuk, Liam O’Brien, Christian Fischer and Ilya Lybushkin.

“We’re not alone in this — everyone is dealing with it,” Boughner said. “We’ve got to try and stay as healthy as possible, get what we need out of practice, and look at this as an opportunity. Yeah, we’re banged up, but there are other teams that are banged up too.

“We’ve just got to try and get as many points in the bank as possible in the next couple of weeks. It’s the most important two weeks of the year.”

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