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Preview/Lines #67: Karlsson Not Loving Playing Left Side

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Credit: San Jose Sharks

Erik Karlsson was just being honest.

The right-hander has spent a week or so playing left defense, his off side, while paired with righties Ryan Merkley, and now, Nicolas Meloche. It all started on Mar. 22 in Calgary.

When asked about how it’s been going, Karlsson responded with a fairly unenthusiastic: “It’s going.”

Wednesday morning, San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner commented on how he thought Karlsson has looked since making the switch.

“I think he’s looked fine,” said Boughner, more energetically than Karlsson.

He then explained why Karlsson was the guy chosen to make the move: “I think Karly’s the obvious choice for me. I think he’s just the most versatile guy.”

Having mentioned that Karlsson has adjusted well over the last week, Boughner clearly isn’t surprised.

“I think that he’s one of the better guys in the league still at being able to get out of a tight space with pressure on him and make a nice exit out of his end. So being on the left side, I don’t think it bothers him defensively.”

Karlsson had a quick answer as to what adjustments he’s had to make in his game: “Just angles and stuff [moving the puck]. It takes you a while to get used to. Some guys are obviously better than others at it, but it definitely takes a little bit of time and a little bit more thinking sometimes. You catch yourself out of position every once in a while, and you just have to figure it out.”

Boughner, formerly a right-handed defenseman himself, noted two challenges with playing on your off side.

“When you go low to high, the puck comes out or it’s getting rimmed out, and you want to pinch, you’re getting things on your backhand. That takes some skill — obviously, Erik has some high-end skill,” he said. “Defensively, I found that when I played on my left side, trying to squeeze a guy off on the wall, you’re turning your body a different way. To be able to turn the other side and not have the leverage you had on your on your good side, it’s just a difference when I played.”

Boughner was also realistic about how the change has gone. Obviously, it hasn’t been perfect.

“There’s been a couple of turnovers in the last couple games that have stung us, but there’s a lot of good that comes with that as well.”

To Boughner’s credit, Karlsson knows he has the history and ability to be reasonably effective in whatever position he is asked to play.

“I played a lot of hockey over the years, and a lot of times, I’ve ended up on the left side [by the end of the shift],” he said. “So at least I have some familiarity with it, but it’s not ideal. But it’s working.”

When was the last time Karlsson has played left defense regularly?

“I don’t know if I ever have,” he revealed.

He may be continuing to do so for a while still.

Stalwart left-hander Mario Ferraro is recovering from injury, and while he’s back at practice, there’s still no timeline for his return. Radim Simek is healthy, but hasn’t played since Mar. 5.

That leaves Jaycob Megna and Marc-Edouard Vlasic as the only other left-handed rearguards on the San Jose Sharks.

Meanwhile, Boughner said today that he’s pleased with how young righties Meloche and Merkley have played recently. So along with Karlsson and Brent Burns, it’s a numbers game right now on the San Jose blueline.

SAN JOSE SHARKS (29-29-8)

COLORADO AVALANCHE (47-14-6)

MacKinnon x-rays negative, Manson wants to stay, Francouz in, Avs lineup for Sharks

WHERE TO WATCH

Puck drop between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche is at 6 PM PT at Ball Arena. Watch it live on Altitude Sports and NBC Sports California. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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