The Sharks had to make some adjustments early in their game against the Winnipeg Jets -- and not for a positive reason.
In the first frame of Tuesday’s contest, San Jose defenseman Radim Simek got tangled up with Winnipeg’s Andrew Copp. The forward fell backward near the boards and pinned Simek’s right leg in the process. The Czech rookie didn’t get back up, writhing in pain on the ice until he was escorted with assistance into the dressing room.
The Sharks didn’t know what exactly happened to Simek. Even after the game, players weren’t sure of his status. “Just saw a replay there and it didn’t look great, so hopefully Simer will be okay,” teammate Gustav Nyquist told the media after the game.
Nevertheless, San Jose had to keep pushing on, even though they were down to five defensemen early in the game. And this was against a heavy team on the second night of a back-to-back on the road.
They did just that as they rallied to defeat the Central Division-leading Jets 5-4.
“It was a gutsy effort. Back-to-back, five d-men,” Sharks’ coach Peter DeBoer told the press after the win. “It was one of those nights that, easily, we could’ve easily said 'hey, the bounces weren’t going our way' and packed it up. But we hung in there. This group’s got a lot of resiliency.”
Filling that void meant the rest of the d-corps had to pick up the minutes in order to contain the heavy-hitting Jets. Brent Burns -- Simek’s partner and the guy who has come up big for San Jose when it comes to leading the blue line when a skater has been injured -- ended the night clocking 28:41 minutes. Fellow veteran Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who tallied the Sharks’ first goal on the night right after Simek got hurt, clocked 23:36 minutes. Team plus-minus leader Brenden Dillon was right there as well, registering 23:30 on the evening.
But it wasn’t just the blue line that had to pick up the slack for Simek’s absence. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, who scored the game-winning goal with seconds left in regulation, told the NBC Sports California postgame show the forward attack had to adjust to the defenseman’s absence as well.
[WATCH: Captain America stuns Winnipeg with four seconds remaining]
“As forwards, you don’t want to turn pucks over, you never do,” he explained. “Then when you’re short (a defenseman) you don’t want to be doubling them up where they have to go back and spend extra time in the d-zone.”
As it turned out, the Sharks all-around effort was enough to accomplish that. Not bad for a team playing a tough game on the second half of a back-to-back on the road.
There was no further detail on Tuesday evening as to what Simek’s prognosis is, but San Jose, no doubt, is crossing their fingers he didn’t sustain an injury too serious. The Czech product has made a big impact on the lineup in his rookie campaign, finding chemistry with Burns despite not speaking English very well.
“We just complement each other with our reads without communicating,” Burns told the press with a slight smile. “He’s a smart player. He’s in the right place before he has to be there.”
The Sharks only have 12 games left in the regular season as they try to get the whole team ready to make a big showing in the playoffs. They now return to home ice for three games, starting with a contest Thursday evening against the Florida Panthers.