It has been nearly three full months since the last time Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson all played in the same game for the Sharks.
Couture scored with precisely one minute remaining in regulation on Jan. 5 to give San Jose a commanding two-goal lead on the road against the Washington Capitals. In what would turn out to be arguably the most crushing loss of their season, the Sharks proceeded to give up two goals over the final minute before losing 5-4 in overtime.
That was the insult. Next came the injury.
In the second period of San Jose's next game on Jan. 7 against the St. Louis Blues, Couture took an awkward fall into the end boards and emerged with a fractured ankle. He would miss the next 17 games while recovering. By the time he returned to the lineup on Feb. 25, both Hertl and Karlsson's seasons had already ended.
Hertl tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 29. Just over two weeks later, Karlsson was placed on season-ending injured reserve after breaking his left thumb against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 14.
While the Sharks certainly experienced their fair share of struggles earlier in the season, the severe injuries endured by arguably their three best players were always going to be too much to overcome. San Jose wasn't anywhere near playoff position when the NHL season was indefinitely paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Though it remains to be seen if and when it will resume, it's safe to assume the franchise's postseason streak has come to an end.
Yep, the last few months have been pretty dark for the Sharks. Not being able to play games isn't helping, but the clouds might be parting.
In addition to restocking their draft cupboard at the trade deadline, the Sharks had two collegiate standouts -- John Leonard and Brinson Pasichnuk -- officially agree to join the organization Wednesday. On a conference call with reporters on Thursday, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson hinted that some more signings might be coming down the pipe in short order.
The most promising update Wilson provided, however, was how Couture, Hertl and Karlsson are progressing from their respective injuries.
In Couture's seventh game back in the lineup, he took a puck to the face -- the guy has the worst luck -- and was placed in concussion protocol as a precautionary measure on March 8. That was San Jose's penultimate game before the season was indefinitely paused, and he has been symptom-free ever since. The only thing preventing Couture from hopping back out on the ice -- if that were a possibility right now -- likely is his conditioning level, something he recently took steps to address.
"Logan is feeling really good," Wilson told reporters. "I've talked to him quite a few times over the last little while. He has used the time really well. Sounds good, he got himself a Peloton, so he's riding every day. He's just about all the way back."
Like Couture, Karlsson's recovery hasn't been set back by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Erik is close to being all the way back," Wilson said, "and will be 100 percent for next season."
Though Hertl's injury was far more serious than the other two, his injury update was the most promising of the three.
"We got great news on Tomas Hertl," Wilson informed. "Talked to him yesterday. He's well ahead of schedule. Everything is going extremely well, and there should be no doubts with him being ready when next season starts, too."
Wilson insisted that all Sharks players and personnel are adhering to government recommendations and social distancing, but Hertl still has access to the team's training facility as he goes about his rehab. Wilson believes that access, combined with Hertl's previous knee injuries, has expedited his recovery this time around.
"He has been able to go to the facility and rehab with [head athletic trainer] Ray Tufts," Wilson explained. "He has got full flexibility and extension of his knee. I think what has happened, too, is he has the benefit -- we say that now; not a benefit at the time but it certainly is now -- he knows the process to go through. This is not an unknown for him.
"And talking to him yesterday, he just sounded outstanding. He's healed up, he's rested, he has got full extension. He has got some strengthening to do, but he said he even feels that he's well ahead of where he thought he would be, and that's been confirmed by our training staff and Ray Tufts, also."
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We don't know when the next NHL season will begin. Heck, we don't even know if the current one will continue.
But whenever the Sharks next take the ice with a legitimate chance to contend for the postseason, it appears they'll have all three of Couture, Hertl and Karlsson in tow, which will be a huge help.
If San Jose is going to emerge from the recent darkness, those three likely will need to lead the way.