Without two key players, Sharks fall apart in loss to Detroit Red Wings

With his team missing its captain and a top-pair defenseman, Sharks coach Bob Boughner stressed before the start of Tuesday’s game with the Detroit Red Wings the need for his best remaining players to be at their best.

Did it happen? Not even close.

A five-minute power play that could have changed the complexion of the game instead turned into a complete debacle for the Sharks, who allowed two shorthanded goals early in the second period and never fully recovered in a 6-2 loss to the Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena.

Down 1-0, the Sharks allowed shorthanded goals to Pius Suter and Tyler Bertuzzi 37 seconds apart early in the second period. After Jasper Weatherby scored at the 4:03 mark of the second to cut Detroit’s lead to 3-1, Suter scored again with 10:28 to go in the middle period to restore his team’s three-goal lead.

The Red Wings had gone 100 consecutive games without a shorthanded goal before Tuesday.

“We lost the game in the five-minute power play when they scored two short-handed goals,” Boughner said. “You can’t go down 3-0 when you’ve got a five-minute power play. That’s your chance to make a difference in the game, set the tone, and get the game back to even, and actually, the opposite happened.”

The Sharks received the five-minute power play after Detroit’s Givani Smith was given a major penalty for boarding and game misconduct for a hit from behind on defensemen Jake Middleton with 1:44 left in the first period. Middleton left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return.

“We’re gonna have to wait and see how he feels (Wednesday),” Boughner said, “because he’s not feeling very good right now.”

Alexander Barabanov scored at the 1:40 mark of the third period to get the Sharks within two, but the Red Wings responded with two goals on its first four shots on goalie Adin Hill. Hill relieved James Reimer, who allowed four goals on 24 shots in the first two periods, although he again received little help from the skaters in front of him.

The Sharks have now allowed 28 goals in their last five games, which includes an 8-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

“It’s really embarrassing what we showed in the second,” period, Sharks forward Tomas Hertl said. “It changed the momentum of the game. It’s on us. It’s a tough feeling because (Reimer) was so good all season. The last two games we didn’t help him at all.”

The Sharks were without center and captain Logan Couture, defenseman Mario Ferraro, and forward Lane Pederson, all of whom are now in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

Couture and Pederson are expected to miss the last two games of the Sharks’ road trip, but Ferraro, who entered protocol on Dec. 30, could return in time for Thursday’s game in Buffalo against the Sabres.

It wouldn’t be a moment too soon.

The Sharks (17-16-1) were looking to bounce back from an 8-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. Boughner and others expressed how much Ferraro was missed in that game. Ferraro, second behind Brent Burns among all skaters in average time on ice, is asymptomatic, Boughner has said.

“You’re looking for a little response, a little character, a little pushback, and to have your captain out, (and) Mario out, two important guys in your dressing room, (it’s) not a fun spot to be in,” Boughner said. “But again, this is an opportunity for others.”

Couture, 32, is second on the Sharks with 29 points in 32 games. He has goals in four of his last five games and leads the team’s forwards in average time on ice at 18:55. Pederson, 24, has two assists in 20 games.

“It’s a huge blow,” Boughner said. “Logan does everything. It’s a big loss. He’s your leader.”

Hertl replaced Couture on the Sharks’ top line and skated with wingers Jonathan Dahlen and Timo Meier. Nick Bonino will move from the third line to take Hertl’s spot.

That line, though, was largely ineffective before Boughner mixed up his forward lines and defense pairs in the second half of the game. Hertl has 25 points in 33 games this season and was on an eight-game point streak with eight goals and four assists before Sunday’s loss.

Hertl and Meier both assisted on Barabanov’s goal.

“He’s got to be the motor, he’s got to be the engine for that line,” Boughner said Tuesday morning of Hertl. “Bonino’s going to have more responsibilities, so I expect the leaders to set the tone.”

The Sharks entered Tuesday tied for sixth place in the Pacific Division, three points back of the Edmonton Oilers for the second and final wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“Other young guys who have been around a little bit here need to step up, the Noah Gregor’s of the world, Dahlen and Barabanov, guys like that,” Boughner said. “We’re going to have a tough time winning games with guys like (Couture) and (Ferraro) out if we don’t have our best players, our most important players, at the top of their game.”

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was a healthy scratch for possibly the first time in his 16-season NHL career on Tuesday. Jaycob Megna, who was added to the Sharks’ taxi squad on Saturday and later added to the team’s active roster, took Vlasic’s spot in the lineup.

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